We Were All Volunteers

By Dennis Clark

I don’t know what Peggy Fletcher (Stack) paid herself as the editor of SunStone,1 but it wasn’t enough. That Peggy was single no doubt helped her be more involved in the magazine than I ever was. I wanted to be more involved, but I was married, with five kids, and had left the Church Historical Department by then to work at the Orem Public Library. I had been a subscriber since the first issue, but when we moved from Kearns to Orem in June of 1979 I had rendered myself nearly useless to the running of the magazine. By the time I volunteered to serve as poetry editor, the magazine was thoroughly Fletcherized, to the point that the official editorial beverage was Diet Dr. Pepper.

I would confound my wife (and appear to abandon my kids) by driving on Saturdays up to Salt Lake City for staff meetings in 1979 and ‘80, sometimes driving through the fog of American Fork, sometimes over the ice at the Point of the Mountain, almost always in heavy traffic since I-15 was two lousy lanes in each direction. But I was serving as poetry editor, and I considered that a calling—one that I luckily could fill on Saturdays.

SunStone was itinerant in those days. We had offices in the Bennett Glass and Paint Building, in the Newhouse Hotel, above Allen Roberts’ architectural offices (next to a fire station), and in the basement of a repurposed office building out near Union Station—all this before the present home of the magazine. And though I was in those offices on occasion, I was never much of an influence on the magazine. What I did as poetry editor, I could do at a distance—read and reject most submissions. Everything I accepted was published, but I spent far too much time reviewing the manuscripts and deciding what to accept. They piled up in my study at home until I could get around to them. When I was embarrassed by enquiries of the authors to the editor, I made a little more progress. But there was always a backlog. My main problem was that I felt that I should tell the author why her or his poem was not acceptable, in hopes that they would improve it and it could be published. I never did learn to say “Thank you for your submission. I’m sorry, but it does not meet our needs.” At least that’s what the editors told me I should say, and offered to say it for me, to cut down my workload, in the cases of obviously bad verse.

But I was too stubborn to recognize that they were offering me a way out of my dilemma (which was mostly that I didn’t know how to say “No” without saying why.) So I didn’t do a good job with this calling. I sullied the name of SunStone; I supplied too few poems; I raised a fuss when the poems were printed as filler in half- or quarter-columns; I was late in getting the good poems to the offices of the magazine. I often felt like sand in the bearings of street-legal hot rod.

So it came about that the editors and I decided to reduce the backlog by embedding it in a long review article which I would call “Mormon Poetry Now.” I started writing it in 1984, and by the end of that year it was obvious that it would be long. Valerie, my wife, said “It’s obvious what you have here: a book.” The editorial staff decided that what we had here was a series of articles. The first appeared in issue 50 (vol. 10 no. 6) June 1985; the second, in issue 54 (vol. 10 no. 10) (undated because late); the third, in issue 57 (vol. 11, no. 1) January 1987; and the fourth in issue 72 (vol. 13, no. 4) August 1989. These last two were shaped by Elbert Peck’s editorial hand.

It was his hand that finally shook mine goodbye. “Mormon Poetry Now” did little to change my habits. We were getting better and better submissions—I had less and less to do by way of instruction—and yet I was still unable to keep up as poetry editor. I was not much use to the editorial staff otherwise, and I was definitely no good at the publishing side. I could, perhaps, have carried on that editorial method—the thematic article—indefinitely, but even I realized that it was not a good way to review submissions, and it had gotten less and less good. So Elbert Peck had to come to my office at the Orem Public Library and release me. For the good of the magazine, for the good of the poets, for my own damned good.

Despite what might sound like a lake full of carping, whining, and cheesing, I enjoyed my time working with SunStone. Now that I have retired from Orem Public Library, I like to find some stone, like Capitol Reef, and lie in the sun and bask, and remember.


1. I always think of the magazine as SunStone because I live in Utah, and those two elements are fundamental to how I view the state. I know that the reference was always to the sun stones of the Nauvoo temple and the Salt Lake temple, and never to the San Rafael Swell or the capacity for enormous solar-electricity projects, but I’ve felt more emotionally attached to my version than to the ecclesiastical.