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ISSUE 118 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/22/2004

Kasdorf digresses on poetic forces of speed, love, gravity

By Stephanie Walker
Contributing Writer


Friday, October 22, 2004

In the dimly lit Viking Theatre, Oct. 15, students and faculty were transported to a land of orange Volkswagons, Mennonites and sinful fruit as poet Julia Kasdorf read from her 1998 collection of poems entitled Eves Striptease.

Kasdorf came to campus as part of the Meet the Author Series and the Lilly Conference for Vocation, and was featured at various readings and workshops on both Friday and Saturday.

Kasdorf is the author of another collection of poems, Sleeping Preacher (1992), as well as the non-fiction works Fixing Tradition: Joseph W. Yoder, Amish American (2003) and The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life, 1991-1999 (2001). Her poems have appeared in such popular periodicals as The New Yorker, Paris Review and Poetry; she currently teaches creative writing at Pennsylvania State University.

She opened Fridays reading appropriately, she mused  considering the rainy, sunless weather  with her poem The Sun Lover. Other selections dealt with adolescence that mostly revolved around memories of driving cars and sun-bathing, she said.

Written after moving back to her home state of Pennsylvania, these selections included Freight, about an old relationship and its demise, Double the Digits, about cars and the youthful need for speed and Knowledge of Good and Evil, about a young girls coming-of-age experience.

Halfway through the reading, Kasdorf paused for questions and discussion with her audience. When asked what she would cite as the biggest inspiration for her work, she replied, Trouble  real problems that I cant figure out, the distance between where I came from and where I chose to be.

Kasdorf lingered on the topic of inspiration for awhile. Other things that inspire me are being married and being a woman, she said. Whats this world that I live in look like? and What does love look like?

Kasdorf went further to assert that the writing process was, for her, proof of God. She used the metaphor of poets as blind oracles, led about by the seeing eye dog of their muses. Kasdorf seemed to imply that in their blindness, poets have a general idea of where theyre going, but are as they write are being led on by something that knows more than they can see.

A more personal section of Kasdorfs reading contained poems she had written for her parents. In Letter to Dad From New Danville, PA she reflected on her Amish-raised father who worked as a scientist during the war; unintentionally, Kasdorf painted a picture of her fathers death within Letter.

Her expression of his fictional demise reflects his life; the poem reads, This is the best thing you ever taught me: to stop. The idea of writing her fathers death long before it occurred inspired her to write a similar poem for her mother, Gravity Hill, which described her mothers death in terms of the natural phenomenon of gravity  heavy, going backward.

Kasdorfs final poem, Flying Lesson, revolved around a conversation shed had with the Dean of Goshen College in northern Indiana, concerning her transfer to another school. In planning for the reading, Kasdorf said that she chose poems that would be relevant to college students; with Flying Lesson, she was especially successful. The final line resonated throughout the theatre as she spoke the Deans words: Fling yourself farther and farther, but darling, dont drop.





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