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About this poet

On December 6, 1962, Julia Spicher Kasdorf was born in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. She was educated at Goshen College and New York University.

Her books of poetry include Eve's Striptease (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998) and Sleeping Preacher (1992), which received the 1991 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Award for New Writing in 1993.

She is also the author of the biography Fixing Tradition: Joseph W. Yoder, Amish American (2003) and The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life, 1991-1999 (2001), which won the Book of the Year Award from the Modern Language Association's Conference on Christianity and Literature. With Michael Tyrell, she edited the anthology Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn (2007).

Her work has been described by the poet Eamon Grennan as "Crosshatched by body, spirit, and the relation between them; animated by bright instinctive exchanges between carnal and religious zones of experience; driven by an honest, explicitly female consciousness of what 'animal' and 'soul' might mean."

She currently teaches creative writing and women's studies at Pennsylvania State University.

Mennonites

Julia Spicher Kasdorf, 1962
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; we just show up in the wake of tornadoes
with hammers, after floods with buckets.
Like Jesus, the servant, we wash each other's feet
twice a year and eat the Lord's Supper,
afraid of sins hidden so deep in our organs
they could damn us unawares,
swallowing this bread, his body, this juice.
Growing up, we love the engravings in Martyrs Mirror:
men drowned like cats in burlap sacks,
the Catholic inquisitors,
the woman who handed a pear to her son,
her tongue screwed to the roof of her mouth
to keep her from singing hymns while she burned.
We love Catherine the Great and the rich tracts
she gave us in the Ukraine, bright green winter wheat,
the Cossacks who torched it, and Stalin,
who starved our cousins while wheat rotted 
in granaries. We must love our enemies.
We must forgive as our sins are forgiven,
our great-uncle tells us, showing the chain
and ball in a cage whittled from one block of wood
while he was in prison for refusing to shoulder 
a gun. He shows the clipping from 1916:
Mennonites are German milksops, too yellow to fight.
We love those Nazi soldiers who, like Moses,
led the last cattle cars rocking out of the Ukraine,
crammed with our parents--children then--
learning the names of Kansas, Saskatchewan, Paraguay.
This is why we cannot leave the beliefs
or what else would we be? why we eat
'til we're drunk on shoofly and moon pies and borscht.
We do not drink; we sing. Unaccompanied on Sundays, 
those hymns in four parts, our voices lift with such force
that we lift, as chaff lifts toward God.

From Sleeping Preacher by Julia Kasdorf. Copyright © 1992 by Julia Kasdorf. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15261. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Julia Spicher Kasdorf

Julia Spicher Kasdorf

Born in 1962, Julia Spicher Kasdorf is the author of several collections of poetry and received the 1991 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize for her book Sleeping Preacher

by this poet

poem
Among the first we learn is good-bye, 
your tiny wrist between Dad's forefinger 
and thumb forced to wave bye-bye to Mom, 
whose hand sails brightly behind a windshield. 
Then it's done to make us follow:
in a crowded mall, a woman waves, "Bye, 
we're leaving," and her son stands firm 
sobbing, until at last he
poem
At dusk the girl who will become my mom
must trudge through the snow, her legs
cold under skirts, a bandanna tight on her braids.
In the henhouse, a klook pecks her chapped hand
as she pulls a warm egg from under its breast.
This girl will always hate hens, 
and she already knows she won't marry a farmer.
In a