new Mennonite Life logo    June 2004     vol. 59 no. 2     Back to Table of Contents

A Few Mutterings on Anthologies and Related Matters

by Jeff Gundy

Jeff Gundy is unduly pleased to find some of his poems situated between those of Di Brandt and Keith Ratzlaff, smack dab in the middle of "A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry." He teaches at Bluffton College in Ohio.

1. Every anthology creates a community and tells a story about it. Here are these texts and these authors, it says, and they matter.

2. The story an anthology tells is always a reduction, a simplification, almost or truly a fiction. But then, so is every other story we tell. It's a big world, and books are small.

3. Selection, like comparison, may be odious but is unavoidable.

4. For every anthology, there is at least one author whose omission from the anthology knowing readers will consider unconscionable. This author will vary among knowing readers.

5. I dislike the phrase "when I was young," but when I was young and a would-be writer, there was no anthology of Mennonite poetry. There were a few Mennonites who wrote, but there was no useable Mennonite literary tradition.

6. Now there are many Mennonites writing, and enough of a literary tradition that we can begin to argue about it. That is not quite a miracle, but pretty close. God is good.

7. One of the main uses of a literary tradition is to give us something interesting to argue about.

8. To develop a literary culture requires many different kinds of work besides the work of imaginative writing. Reading (often overlooked), reviewing, writing criticism, teaching, and editing are all necessary.

9. If undertaken with zest, high spirits, a certain reckless seriousness and all the joy and trepidation one can muster, all of these are creative acts.

10. The literary enterprise is not a contest. Well, of course it is--but not a zero-sum contest. There are many ways an author or a poem can succeed, and even more ways to fail. To succeed at writing--or even to fail--can, and should, be of help to others.

11. To quote Robert Frost, as my teacher Nick Lindsay loved to do: "It's not serious. Just a matter of life and death."

12. Two things my children taught me:

A. Trying to force people to eat what does not taste good to them makes for difficult dinners.

B. Sometimes tastes change.

13. An anthology may be best considered as one conversation that creates opportunities for further conversation.