Friday, January 16, 2004
Goshen College community sings poets' praises A Cappella
GOSHEN, Ind. -- The arched rafters of Goshen College's Rieth Recital Hall reverberated with life, laughter and hope as seven Mennonite poets gathered Jan. 13 to celebrate the newly published anthology of Mennonite poetry, A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry.
The poets -- Di Brandt, Jessica Smucker Falcon, Jeff Gundy, Carmen Horst, Shari Miller Wagner and David Wright -- joined Goshen College Associate Professor of English and editor of A Cappella Ann Hostetler in reading works to a capacity crowd from the new anthology.
Gundy, professor of English at Bluffton College, read his "The Cookie Poem" to great acclaim and appreciated the opportunity to engage the audience directly and interact with the other poets. "It's really fun to hear these voices overlap in a setting like this," said Gundy. "There's so much diversity, and yet a lot of commonality."
Before reading his own poems, Wright noted that the audience was avidly following along in their copies of A Cappella like Mennonites follow along in their hymnals. He also shared the story about meeting Hostetler at the Goshen College Mennonite/s Writing conference and being requested to submit poems for the anthology, but at that time Wright wasn't Mennonite. To much laughter, Wright related how Hostetler had jokingly said that poetry was a fine reason to join the church.
Buffy Garber, a 1999 Goshen College graduate and Goshen resident, felt a strong connection to Wright's poetry themes. "As a new Mennonite myself, I strongly identify with his themes of being a newcomer to the community," she said. "The poem he read about needing a hymnal while everyone else sings from memory was a fitting metaphor." Wright is a visiting assistant professor of English at Wheaton College.
During the reading, the poets commented in jest that the order of the poems in the anthology is based on birthdate. For Smucker-Falcon, the youngest poet in the anthology, it was a surprise and honor to be included. "For a long time I didn't even realize that I was writing Mennonite poems. I thought I was writing my way out of my Mennonite history, but it turns out I was writing my way into it," said Smucker-Falcon. "I have to say, now it feels great to be next to all these writers I studied in school."
Horst, a student at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, read several of her poems and found the evening of sharing a special time. "Place has always been important to me, because in some places poems can find you more easily than in others," she said. "Tonight was a very special place."
Junior English major Sara Wakefield from Harrisonburg, Va., found it "exciting to be this close to these people I've always read," she said. "For the first time I felt part of a writing community."
Bertha Beachy, a Goshen resident and event attender, concurred. "I love that Mennonites are finally getting into poetry!" she said. "Poetry is like living in another culture: you can't understand it unless you know who you are. And it can help you in that process."
The anthology, published by the University of Iowa Press in the fall of 2003, features 24 poets, including seven Goshen College alumni. Their poems explore issues of identity, sexuality, religious doctrine, cross-cultural experiences, memory, family and individuality, sometimes with doubt and sorrow but always with candor and urgency. Often, their struggle to break free of rigid patterns, to maintain the integrity of individual experience while honouring the will of the community, bespeaks an earnest desire to marry change with a respect for tradition.
-- by Sasha Dyck
Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college's Christ-centered core values -- passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership -- prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron's Best Buys in Education, Kaplan's "Most Interesting Colleges" guide and U.S.News & World Report's "America's Best Colleges" edition, which named Goshen a "least debt college." Visit www.goshen.edu.
Editors: For more information, contact Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or firstname.lastname@example.org.