To appreciate Julia Kasdorf’s poetry fully, one must know some family history. Her parents left the Mennonite enclave of the Pennsylvania valley to raise their daughter in the Pittsburgh suburb of Irwin. The family attended a Mennonite church in nearby Scottsdale. As a child, Kasdorf spent the academic year in this urban environment but enjoyed summer holidays in the company of more traditional relatives in the valley. This bifurcation allowed Kasdorf to straddle two cultures and observe both from the perspective of an outsider looking in. Stories relayed to her by relatives during those summers reappeared as poems in her 1992 collection Sleeping Preacher. The poems in Eve’s Striptease, though less overtly related to the Mennonite life, still resonate with the emotions of those stories, although the setting has shifted. Many of the poems in the later volume are based in New York City, where the poet lived for a decade as an adult.
While the label “feminist Mennonite” may seem an anomaly, the term suits Kasdorf well. She examines the male-dominant practices of her religion (and of American society at large) through the female lens and reconstructs authentically the scenes she views. Neither anti-Mennonite nor anti-men, she does not rant about injustices against women; she reports them with honesty and sensitivity as part of the vast spectrum of female experiences she explores in her poetry. In Eve’s Striptease, she writes about interiors and exteriors, about houses and people, about the visible marks on the body and the less visible scars on the soul. Most important, she gives women voices.
Eve’s Striptease is arranged in two parts that together encompass varied life experiences. The opening section, titled “First Gestures,” includes poems commemorating a number of firsts: sexual initiations, spiritual awakenings, and the acquisition of cultural knowledge. In “A Pass,” a girl recites “forgive us our trespasses” at a church service, possibly a funeral, remembering simultaneously the time a man molested her by slipping his hand up her dress. The multiple meanings embedded in the title suggest the passing of the spirit from one...
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