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Latter-day Saint women poets celebrated in new DVD, 'Discoveries'

To air on BYU-Television satellite network May 7-8

What began more than a year ago as a staged reading of a collection of Latter-day Saint women's poetry, written from 1845 to 2003, has culminated in the release on DVD of a filmed version of the performance, "Discoveries."

The production will be broadcast Saturday, May 7, at 9 p.m. and Sunday, May 8, at 8 p.m. on the BYU-Television satellite network.

"This new theatrical piece joins genres of poetry, music and drama together to create a moving and entertaining picture of the life of a Mormon woman," said director Char Nelson.

Susan Howe, a Brigham Young University English professor, and Sheree Maxwell Bench, a research historian for the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, compiled an anthology of Mormon women's poetry and then worked with director Char Nelson to select poems from the anthology for a live performance.

"Our goal was to highlight Mormon women's poetry-poems from the 19th century that have been rediscovered by researchers and more contemporary poems by some of our most talented poets," said Bench. "In weaving them together we discovered a wonderful interplay across generations that invites the audience to hear voices that have been missing, voices that articulate Mormon women's experiences."

The poetry takes up every topic from creation to carpools, childhood horseplay to adult grief. It focuses on the complexities, joys, struggles and spiritual power of Latter-day Saint women.

This unique performance of poetry is both spoken and sung. It is set within a musical framework created by London composer and musician Harriet Petherick Bushman and musical director Gayle Lockwood.

The piece was originally performed last March as part of the Smith Institute and Harold B. Lee Library exhibition and lecture series, "To Tell the Tale: Preserving the Lives of Mormon Women." It was one of several events in 2004 planned by the Smith Institute Women's History Initiative in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of renowned poet and leader of Latter-day Saint women, Eliza R. Snow.

"The response to the piece was quite remarkable," said Nelson. "The poetry communicates on a deep level, in profoundly personal ways. After the first performance I was approached by people asking if the show could be toured, which wasn't at all practical for our cast. But Sharon Swenson of the Theatre and Media Arts Department at BYU suggested investigating the possibility of filming the piece.

"We were fortunate enough to engage the services of Tom Lefler as film director and Brian Wilcox as director of photography, and the work of transforming 'Discoveries' began. The film allows the viewer an even more intimate sharing of their souls-the composer, the performers and the poets," she said.

Performers include Harriet Bushman, Elizabeth Funk, Dianna Graham, Shelley Graham, Melinda Lockwood, Elizabeth Smith, Diane Rane and Jane Wise.

The book, "Discoveries: Two Centuries of Poems by Mormon Women," is available through BYU Studies (, and the DVD is available through Creative Works at BYU ( Both may be purchased at the BYU Bookstore.

For more information, contact Char Nelson at (801) 377-2707.

Writer: Char Nelson

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