FINE ARTS
What makes a Mennonite poet?
By: Kelli Yoder '08

For Anita Hooley, an English major from Canton, Ohio, who graduated in 2007, a summer of research with the college’s annual Maple Scholars program turned out to mean curling up with good book after good book.

“Basically, I just got to sit around and read poetry all day,” she said. “I was working for Ann Hostetler collecting and reviewing work from new Mennonite writers, or new work from ‘old’ Mennonite writers, for a new poetry anthology.” Hostetler, professor of English, published the first anthology of its kind, A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry (University of Iowa Press), in 2003.

“Since I am familiar with much of the poetry and many of the writers, it is useful to have an informed reader with a fresh perspective to respond to the many poems one reads for inclusion in such an anthology,” Hostetler said.

All the reading made Hooley think beyond the poetry itself to consider the Mennonite voice and the way it is emerging into uncharted territory. An idea that, Hostetler said, “is a topic I have also been thinking about for the past few years.”

Hooley said, “I did some background reading on the field of Mennonite literature in general, and just thinking a lot about the relationship of poets to their community and tradition, about what qualifies someone as a ‘Mennonite poet,’ and what makes something ‘Mennonite poetry’ (if anything).”

Hooley eventually narrowed her ideas to the consideration of the Mennonite Self. “Maybe the Mennonite Self in particular is aware of the outside influences on the Self,” she decided. “Anita’s theory that the Self in the work of Mennonite poets tends to be presented as overtly social, relational and accountable, is an intriguing and, I think, productive line of thinking about what might make this work distinctive, without overly prescribing what we hope to find,” Hostetler said.

“I never got to take Mennonite Lit,” Hooley said, referring to a class offered at the college, “but this summer was like a crash course in Mennonite Lit.”