Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Community, Theology and Mennonite Poetics in the Work of Jeff Gundy

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Community, Theology and Mennonite Poetics in the Work of Jeff Gundy

Article excerpt

Abstract: To pay closer attention to Jeff Gundy's poems in Inquiries and Flatlands as they speak in dialogue with his recent nonfiction work, A Community of Memory, is to encounter a distinctively Mennonite poetics of community and a compelling response to the literary and cultural landscapes of postmodernity. Gundy's prose work provides a necessary filter through which to view his poetry and its rich and challenging rendering of community and history, his implicit and explicit theological questioning, his sense of place, and his resulting poetics. Gundy's work offers a necessary refraction of Mennonite identity through the particularly important lens of storytelling and poetry, a provocative and humble vision facing an unpredictable response from both the church and the broader culture.

**********

"Every telling of that story is a covenant with the past.... All remembering is equally a forgetting. Which is a reminder that we Christians can take the risk of remembering, and forgetting, that task we currently call history, because we know that God rightly remembers all those who constitute the communion of the saints."

--Stanley Hauerwas from "Whose Church? Which Future? Whither the Anabaptist Vision?"

At the end of his comprehensive discussion of Mennonite poets in the United States, Jeff Gundy exhorts Mennonites to pay closer attention to their poetry-writing sisters and brothers. "I believe we will benefit from listening to our poets," Gundy writes. "I doubt that they will save us, but I believe they can make us a little less lost." (1) Such listening is precisely what this essay attempts to do with Gundy's own work: to consider Gundy's poems in Inquiries and Flatlands as they speak in dialogue with his recent nonfiction work, A Community of Memory: My Days with George and Clara. This dialogue between Gundy's prose and poetry produces a distinctively Mennonite poetics of community and a compelling response to the literary and cultural landscapes of postmodernity.

However, let me quickly apologize, in the philosophical sense, for my position as listener. I am an eavesdropper. I stand just inside the fringes of Mennonite life and traditions, listening surreptitiously and sometimes wistfully to Mennonite talk of community, to the ongoing Anabaptist theological tradition and, in this particular case, to a particularly important Mennonite poet. From my position as overhearer, I will likely get wrong some or much of Gundy's writing and its import for Mennonites. I invite correction. I do not want to be like the tourists I heard about in Central Illinois Amish country who were convinced, from a safe distance, that those folks in black hats and coats and simple dresses were really Orthodox Jews. "We didn't know you had 'em like that out here," they said.

An eavesdropper's stance should invite a large measure of humility, one of the literary and critical virtues Gundy embodies and extols in so much of his writing. At the very end of A Community of Memory he writes about his own tenuous grasp on the truth, on the failures and risks of interpreting the world's text:

   And yet what do I know. Every fall in the pollen season my wife's
   bodily defenses go to red-alert and flood her system with
   histamines and misery while I blunder mildly onward, breathing
   easily. I am reminded each time of how little my senses really
   deliver of what goes on. I am reminded to beware of claiming too
   much certainty of whatever kind; there's more going on than I can
   explain or understand. We may be surprised, overtaken, drowned,
   raptured--tomorrow or today. (2)

Barring such apocalyptic interruptions and yet hoping for surprises, I will read through three key concerns that emerge in Gundy's work: his rendering of community and history, his implicit and explicit theological questioning and his resulting poetics.

COMMUNITY--"THE RISK OF REMEMBERING"

To those Christians (and non-Christians) who listen and watch from outside Mennonite circles, no ongoing reality appears more attractive (and, for some, more frightening) than Mennonites' understanding and practice of community. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.