“A fascinating cross-section of recent writers from all corners of the Mennonite community, A Cappella takes you on an intimate journey into their world . . . the poems’ overarching themes, such as family, sexuality, and religion, make A Cappella’s music at once very ancient and very new, and therefore likely to resonate with readers from any tradition.”—Image
“As an intricate choral music lovingly arranged, this gathering makes manifest a rich community of accomplished voices, a community whose immediate concerns are various, whose informing circumstances diverge, but whose common chord remains apprehensible and compelling—a long devotion to peace attaining to a concurrent devotion to beauty.”—Scott Cairns, author of Philokalia: New and Selected Poems
“A Cappella invites the outsider to eavesdrop on a new community of American poets—representing a religious ethnic tradition dating back to 1525—which has only since the 1970s been expressed in gutsy poetry rather than hymns and sentimental verse. Although they may invoke ethnically charged images—quilts, martyrs, and shoofly pie—their poems are less charming local color than vigorous explorations of the individual in the community, of women in a man's world, of personal trauma and ecstasy, and of spiritual hope in a dark world. Ethnicity gives these usually lucid poems a tart, sometimes obscure edge, but the result is a garland of verse well worth the effort to understand and appreciate.”—Ervin Beck, professor of English, Goshen College
In Julia Kasdorf's poem “Mennonites,” she writes of her heritage and her people: “We keep our quilts in closets and do not dance. / We hoe thistles along fence rows for fear / we may not be perfect as our Heavenly Father. / We clean up his disasters. No one has to / call.”
Persecuted by Protestants and Catholics alike throughout history and largely misunderstood by the rest of the world, Mennonites have found it difficult to make their voices heard or respected. It is with a kind of true necessity, then, that an anthology of poetry, compiled by Ann Hostetler, a Mennonite poet herself, has finally emerged; possessing the potential to be both challenging to and corrective of our preconceived notions of this unique religious and cultural group.
In this surprising collection, twenty-four Mennonite poets, both men and women, young and old, confront issues of identity, sexuality, religious doctrine, 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 simultaneously honoring the will of the community, speaks to an earnest desire to marry change with tradition. These poems poignantly grapple with contradiction and compromise, the unavoidable components of a made world.
Ranging in tone from elegy to satire, the poems in A Cappella explore the tension between the artist's individual view and the power of a communal vision to mold and shape its members. A critical introduction to the volume defines the context of Mennonite poetry, and a concluding history of Mennonite poetry in North America provides a valuable resource for students and scholars. Each poet is also individually introduced by a brief biographical essay.
With its panoply of well-crafted poems, A Cappella is a valuable addition to any collection of poetry, Mennonite and non-Mennonite alike.