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Our Visions, Our Voices in Arizona Review

by EmilyCC, Jessawhy, and Kay Gaisford
  
There has been such great writing this week generated from the “Our Visions, Our Voices” tour (see Reese’s lovely review of the California’s leg of the tour and Joanna’s moving depiction of the writers’ afternoon in Colorado City) that some of the Arizona feminists felt we would be remiss if we did not share what we learned when the tour stopped at Arizona State University on Tuesday night.
 
After an introduction by poet Judy Curtis, our Arizona representative on the tour, Joanna Brooks introduced the readings by inviting each of us in the audience to participate in creating a poem by reciting in succession the name of one of our grandmothers. A handful of people chose to state only a first name, a personal gesture of connection. Most of us stated the full name of our grandmother, fashioning a string of first, middle, and family names of variety and color. Most of the names denoted Anglo roots, while others suggested a Scandinavian heritage. Taken together, it was a poetic patchwork of connections binding us in a crazy-quilt of Mormon femininity.  There was a palpable feeling of power and pride as we said the names of those women.   

Our group poetry project was followed by Lisa Van Orman Hadley’s essay about her father and Reuben sandwiches.  We watch as their relationship grows from the basics of sandwich assembly to the two creating their own Thousand Island dressing with special secret ingredients.  The piece is particularly wonderful because she was able to turn to her junior high memories of making Reuben sandwiches with her dad when years later, she realized that he was no longer the same person and no longer shared her important memories of their times together.  

Canadian and RLDS member, Susan Scott connected her story about a town’s epidemic with tainted water to the importance of water in our Arizona deserts. The piece she read was taken from a collection that took her years to write. We learned about a small town that was betrayed by the people who kept its water supply clean. When half the town became ill and seven people died, the tragedy was so immense it altered the future of the community. Focusing on the issue of trust, Susan was able to connect us, as her audience, to our own lives where losing, gaining, and keeping trust are crucial to our successfully functioning in our communities.

Danielle Dubrasky offered several expressive poetry readings.  Her poem about being a child in her home church building growing up was poignant and evocative—one could almost smell the mustiness of the basement Primary room.

Judy Curtis also did some fabulous poetry readings.  Her poem, “Dessert,” talks about the self-sacrifice and often unappreciated offerings we, as women, make for our families.  She ended with a longer poem about Aunt Sarah, a fictional polygamous wife’s life post-Manifesto.  So many of us can’t wait until she gets back to Phoenix so that we can get our own copies.  How often do we think about the lives of those women who weren’t able to stay married to their husbands after the Church stopped polygamy?

Joanna Brooks came back with a piece about a blue Econoline van, which served as a symbol of life.  The stories that she wove together kept circling back to the van, driven by older women who control the lives of girls, approaching womanhood. The themes of childbirth, wife-work, and the eternal role of women were juxtaposed with amusing and almost-unbelievable tales of rides in the blue Econoline van. Most insightful for several of us was the realization that women’s traditional roles here were not reinforced by the patriarchy, but enforced by the matriarchy

We were delighted with Holly Welker’s memoir, blowing many of us away with its fast pace and depth of content.  Her ability to weave the themes of diamonds, swine, and a hand print on her chest throughout a piece that seemed to be as smooth and jumbled as her life was so impressive and reminded some of us of our favorite contributors to “This American Life.”

In Joanna’s final contribution to the evening, she turned our thoughts again to the connections we feel with our grandmothers, and by extension, with all women. She read “Invocation/Benediction,” inspired by a grandmother’s patchwork quilt, with phrases evocative of feminine connection, including:
        “Where there is no pattern, God, give me courage to organize a fearsome beauty…
         “Give me an incandescent all-night garage with a quorum of thimble-thumbed
                    grandmothers sitting on borrowed folding chairs.
         “We will gather all the lost scraps and stitch them together:
         “A quilt big enough to warm all our generations.”

As Exponent women, we thoroughly enjoy and admired Joanna and Holly’s undertaking to warm all generations of all Mormon women.

If you’re lucky enough to live near Utah Valley University or University of Utah, you simply must make it a point to attend one of these last two stops on the tour.

Organizers Joanna Brooks and Holly Welker, both accomplished writers who have written beautifully, insightfully, and creatively of their experiences as Mormon women and feminists, brought the Mormon Women Writers’ Literary Tour, “Our Visions, Our Voices,” to Arizona State University on Tuesday, March 23, 2010.

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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6 Responses

  1. corktree says:

    I just have say I am SO jealous of everyone’s amazing experiences with the tour but that I’m grateful so many have shared their stories about it. I really wish it could have come further north.

  2. Aimee says:

    Thank you for this generous summary of this wonderful event. I think it’s time for an East Coast tour!

  3. Caroline says:

    What a great writeup! I too am so sorry I missed this. I would have just loved to be there.

    Do you know if there are plans to publish these works somewhere?

  4. J. Curtis says:

    The readings podcast will be available on mormonmatters.org soon. The works are being archived in Special Collections at the Marriott library at the Un. of Utah. Thanks to the Emily, Jessica and Kay for the great write up.

  5. Alisa says:

    I had the opportunity to attend the one at UVU in Orem, UT. It was inspiring to hear the different Mormon women’s voices and their talent to convey their experiences so well through essay and poetry. I found something in almost each one that resonated with something I have felt at some point, as if I could have written a line here or there.

    I hope that this will become a tradition for Mormon women to share our voices like this.

  1. April 5, 2010

    […] Our Visions, Our Voices: A Mormon Women’s Literary Tour is over now. It has been discussed quite extensively throughout the bloggernacle, but I find myself still thinking about the experience. I […]

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