Julia Kasdorf Essay - Critical Essays


Julia Kasdorf has carved out a niche in contemporary American poetry as a Mennonite poet who explores her religious and spiritual culture from a woman’s perspective and who validates its continuing existence in a more progressive era. The Mennonite culture is characterized by its embrace of a simple lifestyle, a rural setting, and communal Christian worship. Kasdorf has long been a member of a more urban environment and individual lifestyle, but her roots are traditional Mennonite. In her poetry, Kasdorf explores the tensions that exist between traditional Mennonite culture and modern secular society. Memory is a constant motif in her poems, one that allows the poet to simultaneously record, question, and pay tribute to her past. Kasdorf instills her memories and the memories of other Mennonite women, both traditional and modern, in poems that archive stories of both lived and remembered experiences.

Kasdorf questions male-dominant practices of Amish and Mennonite communities and relates them to larger mainstream, still primarily male-dominant practices of American society that marginalize women and their voices. In the very act of writing her poetry, Kasdorf claims her voice and gives voice to other Mennonite women. That Kasdorf harbors no grudge against the Mennonite community or against men is evident in her approach. Her poems are testimonials, not diatribes. In fact, she finds much to celebrate in the sexual and spiritual dimensions of humanity.

Sleeping Preacher

In interviews, Kasdorf has discussed the genesis of her poems in Sleeping Preacher, explaining that they were inspired by family stories about the hardships and the rewards of Mennonite life. Typically, close-knit faith communities live by a code of reticence. Private community matters are not shared with outsiders. Kasdorf breaks this silence by sharing the experiences of Mennonite members in her poems. Stories about the lives of Mennonite women, doubly silenced...

(The entire section is 810 words.)