April 10, 2013
Glossolalia by Marita Dachsel
Marita Dachsel is a friend, and I was already inclined to like her new book Glossolalia because I’ve got a thing for obscure historical figures/stories whose voices are resurrected via poetry. In Glossolalia, the stories belong to the 34 polygamous wives of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, though Dachsel is careful to point out that her book is not meant to be a biography or a historical work. Rather, as Sharon McCartney explained with her Laura Ingalls Wilder poems, “the voices, the characters and the details are vehicles, a way to say what I want to say.”
Glossolalia is a curious, wonderful book, in which a “self-avowed agnostic feminist uses mid-nineteenth century Mormon America as a microcosm for… universal emotions…”. Through Smith’s wives, each one with her own name, point of view and distinct voice, Dachsel explores ideas about love, marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, jealousy, domesticity, sex, trust, and betrayal. While the poems themselves are united by their representation of the voices of Smith’s wives, their styles and approaches are remarkably diverse, some written with formality and great distance, others more ribald and contemporary in tone. Apart from a few (often negative) examples, there is no sense of connection between these women, the poems showing their experiences of the world to be remarkably disparate, complicating tidy ideas of sisterhood. Dachsel’s wives are less a chorus than a cacophony, a crowd of dissonant voices, each shouting to be heard above the others.
But hear them, we do. The wives each emerge as distinct, aware, embodied, and it is the smallness and closeness of poetry (as well as their poet’s talent) that brings them so to life.