Monday, November 22, 2021

Julia Spicher Kasdorf*

Julia Spicher Kasdorf is a Pennsylvania poet who has published four collections. She has also authored the essay collection The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life, and the biographical study, Fixing Tradition: Joseph W. Yoder, Amish American.

Her latest poetry project is a significant departure from her earlier work. Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields (Pennsylvania State University Press), which she wrote in collaboration with Steven Rubin. She is a Liberal Arts Professor of English at Penn State University, and he is a documentary photographer, who is a Professor of Art (also at Penn State).

“I’m a Mennonite ― I can’t understand anything first without understanding its history,” Kasdorf told a friend and interviewer. She had been teaching a course in documentary poetry, when she and her husband took a motorcycle ride through Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. Seeing the impact of fracking on the people and the landscape led her to want to document what is happening without coming down on either side of the debate.

The documentary approach to poetry also comes through in her other poetry books ― Sleeping Preacher, Eve’s Striptease, and Poetry in America ― particularly when she takes on the role of an observer of rural Mennonite or Amish life.

The following poem is from her third collection Poetry In America (Pittsburgh).

Sometimes It’s Easy To Know What I Want

On a road that cuts through the richest, non-irrigated land
in the nation, according to some Lancaster, PA, natives,

a minivan slowed, and a woman with a good haircut yelled,
Do you want a ride, or are you walking because you want to?

I didn’t reply because my life felt so wrecked―
no matter the reason, either you get this or you don’t―

wrecked in the way that makes gestures of tenderness
devastating, like the time I showed up in Minnesota, brittle

with sorrow, and the professor sent to fetch me
asked if I wanted heat in the seat of his sports car

or the local apple he’d brought in case I arrived hungry.
I didn’t know people make seats to hold a body in radiance

like the merciful hand of God. The apple was crisp and cold
and sweet. Maybe I looked in his eyes and shook his hand

in both of mine when I left, I don’t remember. Months later,
he sent an empty seed packet, torn open, lithographed

with a fat, yellow annual no one grows any more, flamboyant
as Depression-era glassware. That was all, thank you.

Thank you, oh thanks so much, I finally told the woman
framed by a minivan window, but yes, I do want to walk.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Julia Spicher Kasdorf: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.