Mormon poetry has been a prominent form of literary expression by Latter-day Saints since the beginnings of the religion. Poets such as Eliza R. Snow and W. W. Phelps used verse to celebrate the Restoration and praise Church leaders, to describe the gathering of Zion or the pioneer movement, and to expound scripture and doctrine. Mormon poetry is often found in the lyrics of hymns sung by Latter-day saints, such as Snow’s “Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother,” (“O My Father”). However, even in the 19th century Mormon poetry went beyond the hymn form and beyond strictly devotional verse to include a great variety of forms and subject matter.
Mormon periodicals (both institutional and independent) have provided ongoing venues for publishing poetry and encouraging its appreciation and creation, from The Evening and the Morning Star (1832-144) to The Relief Society Magazine (1915-1970); from The Contributor (1879-1896) to The Ensign (1970-present); from BYU Studies and Dialogue to Irreantum. A great investment in poetry has accompanied nearly all Mormon periodical publishing (see the genre profile for Periodicals).
Mormon poetry found new directions in the latter half of the twentieth century. Clinton F. Larson, considered by many to be the first modern Mormon poet, introduced the possibility of a poetic voice that could encompass both the religious and the secular. Carol Lynn Pearson popularized poetry in the Mormon market with her collections, including her first, Beginnings. Emma Lou Thayne’s poetry of love and tolerance has been widely anthologized, making her one of the first poets to break out of the Mormon audience. Contemporary Mormon poets continue to find new themes and new audiences. Lance Larsen, Susan Elizabeth Howe, and Kimberly Johnson all publish for national audiences, while maintaining the Mormon sensibilities that set their poetry apart.