Page 2 – Mennonite Literature As Genre
Cascadia/DreamSeekers, an independent publishing company, hosted a session featuring readings from their authors, many of whom were poets. Becca J.R. Lachman, whose collection of poetry The Apple Speaks was recently reviewed by ERB, shared some of her work, including a piece exploring personal feelings of an anniversary spent alone while her rock and roller husband served as a peace volunteer overseas. Cheryl Denise, the only poet in the Dreamseekers collection who has two published works, also read. Her newest, What’s in the Blood, contains Mennonite roots and rural sentiments, while simultaneously exploring femininity, sexuality, and struggle within the Church. Lines from her poem “Mother from Paradise” speak with feminist fire not often associated with those kind of Mennonite church ladies who wear head coverings and make killer casseroles for potlucks:
Oh it goes on and on
burning sulfur, golden calves.
You know the rest.
Except the parts God allowed men to skew
like making Mary Magdalene a prostitute,
twisting Paul’s words
to make us women silent slaves,
changing the Holy Spirit from a She to a He.
Poems by Chris Longenecker also captivated listeners, not only because of her quiet, yet firm charm, but also for the fact that she recited her poetry from memory. In her collection How Trees Must Feel, Chris muses about visitations with her preacher father to local farmers, and how, like a spring, it takes time to truly understand the depths of a person, and even with time, we still may not break much past the surface.
One of the feature presenters of the weekend was Gregory Orr, teacher at University of Virginia and author of ten collections of poetry including How Beautiful the Beloved and Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved. In the latter book, he penned the line “if we’re not supposed to dance, then why all this music?” This could serve as the thesis and crescendo of the weekend, which offers a plea to read and engage with Mennonite literature, a viable and rich genre that speaks words of life out of an important heritage to our war-torn world in need of a little peace and justice.
Other notable Mennonite authors to look at are Jean Janzen and her collection of poetry Paper House, Vern Thiessen, Canada’s premier playwright whose play Back to Berlin explores the brokenness and struggle of a Father Son relationship as the son tries to uncover whether or not his Mennonite father, who served in the German army in WWII, was a Nazi and killed Jews. He also won the Canadian Governor General’s Award for his work Einstein’s Gift. And Miriam Toews, who was not at the conference, was frequently referenced, especially for her work A Complicated Kindness which has received many favorable comparisons to Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.
So, listen to the music, engage in the dance, and spend some time immersing yourself into the world of Mennonite literature: poetry, fiction, memoir and creative non-fiction.
Alex Dye is Associate Pastor of Oak Grove Mennonite Church in West Liberty, Ohio, and a frequent contributor to The Englewood Review of Books.