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Count Me In (Signature, 2024)

Q and A about this book
(from the newsletter of Signature Books, March 26, 2024)

Why did you choose the title Count Me In


The title is my declaration of faith. The definition of “faith” that I’ve chosen for my life is “action in the face of doubt.” Very few of us get to live life with perfect knowledge of anything. Faith, then, is what I do when I’m not sure of something. I have committed to many things—my marriage, my vocation as a mother, my religion—that have areas of uncertainty, things I’m not sure about. I move forward in them despite those ambiguities. The phrase “Count me in” is my declaration of commitment to the world and the ways I’ve decided to move in it.


How does your faith come into play in your poetry?


I feel that the process of writing a poem is a metaphor for living a life of faith. The best poems come when the writer doesn’t know for sure how they will end when she begins. A poem, like a life of faith, is the taking of a step forward with hope.


I am fascinated by my LDS culture and find it overflowing with the potential of literary art. I write best when I give myself permission to write as a practicing woman of faith. I spent some time trying not to write about my culture, and it was so squelching that I stopped writing completely for a while. It’s been a joy to come back to it. 


Who has inspired your writing? 


As a child, encouraged by my mom, I wrote silly and simplistic doggerel. When I hit high school, I encountered poetry that knocked the wind out of me (I can still see exactly where I was the day I encountered “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”). I suddenly realized that what I had been writing was nothing like real poetry. So I stopped writing completely.


Fast forward to the time I lived in Berkeley, California, as the wife of a grad student and mother of two. Here I was surrounded by interesting, intelligent people who lived the gospel in a great variety of ways—ways I’d never encountered as a member raised in the Salt Lake Valley. It was exhilarating. I was also wrestling with my identity as a stay-home-mother. I was fiercely envious of my husband because he was continuing his education while I was, in my mind, a full-time babysitter. The combination of these things—people around me that I desperately wanted to be in conversation with and my own need to find a voice and a purpose—led me to start writing again.


I was influenced early on by Carol Lynn Pearson, the only poet whose work we had on our shelves in my childhood home. Later, I encountered Billy Collins (I think of him now as a great “gateway poet” for those who think they don’t like poetry). When I got serious about craft, I was deeply influenced by Stephen Dunn (he is good at portraying self-consciousness) and Kay Ryan (I love how she plays with rhyme). Reading Maurice Manning, Louise Gluck, and Anne Sexton taught me interesting ways of talking about religious experience. Dean Young taught me the importance and joy of letting the wild and unexpected into a poem. 


At Brigham Young University, what are some obstacles you face in teaching your students to write that you may also face in your writing?


In our LDS culture we are taught to be industrious. We frown on wasted time. But good writing takes time—more than that, it takes play-around time, time to try things out and get messy and backtrack and start over. You don’t get better at a craft unless you practice, but practice doesn’t lead to immediate outward results. If we take time away from all the righteous endeavors that fill our hours, we feel pressure to justify that time with results. But pushing too fast for results ruins the sense of freedom and play (let alone the time required to grow more skillful) necessary to the production of good work. I have to teach my students—and continuously remind myself—that my work will benefit in the long term if I can be in less of a hurry and resist the “righteous” effort to see the end from the beginning and go directly there. Poet Dean Young talks about aiming for “more wreck,” meaning that poets should embrace recklessness. I need to help my students and myself learn to give up time for recklessness, wildness, and play without a destination in mind.


At BYU, many of my students also struggle with a desire to preach or bear testimony in their work. We talk at the beginning of the semester about the difference between literary art and sermon. While any poem that tells the truth about the world is a kind of testimony, an outright moral has no place in a poem, which must respect the reader’s agency and leave some gaps for personal experience and interpretation. I tell my students that I love their desire to preach, but that they should save their parables and lessons for church talks.


Who will enjoy reading Count Me In?


While only a small proportion of the poems in the collection are connected to my religious background, the collection as a whole will be best appreciated by those familiar with the LDS Church. I address topics like temple worship, ward culture, and Book of Mormon characters, though these aren’t the “inspirational” rhyming LDS poems we might hear over the pulpit or read in the Liahona. My favorite compliment to get is when someone says, “I don’t usually enjoy poetry, but I enjoy yours.”

What others have to say about Count Me In:


Written with grace, patience, and a bit of humor, Darlene Young's third book of poetry explores the intersection of spirituality and everyday life, and it is there she finds God. These poems are simple, yet not simplistic; hopeful, yet not superficial, understandable, yet not lacking in depth, nuance, or insight. Without apology, Young invites readers to see her world through her eyes. It is a place where the small things are the big things, a place where light, faith, and life abide. To that end, I say, 'Count me in.'"


--Kyle Turley, author of Alma 1-29: A Brief Theological Introduction

These poems capture that healing journey that far too many of us never take, that begins by finding our good intentions only to discover that they end up making us look ridiculous. Many of us stop at intention and never see ourselves for the fools we are, but wallowing in embarrassment and shame when we discover that our intentions betrayed us is no better. Young takes us by the hand to show us that there is more--a new life where, even tough we age and become intimate with imperfection, we can laugh at ourselves and then, finally, truly fall in love with the world. She's the love child of Erma Bombeck and Gerard Manley Hopkins, or Billy Collins's Mormon sister; every poem a hymn, a doo-wop performance, and plaintive ballad rolled into one, singing hallelujah for our extraordinary lives. These are poems to live by.

--George Handley, author of Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River and American Fork

Once again, Darlene Young sanctifies the ordinary, transforming the humdrum of our lives with poignant reflections. In Count Me In, she turns what's dreary and tender into life's sweetest gifts, leaving you delighted by the particulars of existence and feeling deeply known. She does the soul work of connecting us ot the divinity and richness of the everyday.

--Aubrey Chaves, co-host, Faith Matters podcast

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