Glossolalia is akin to flipping through a stranger’s family photo book

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Reading Marita Daschsel’s Glossolalia provided me with two experiences I was not expecting.

Marita Daschsel’s Glossolalia

Marita Daschsel’s Glossolalia

The first is that I had fun.

This might sound pretty basic, but I was actually quite apprehensive about diving into a book of poetry, and even more apprehensive to write about it as I hadn’t really taken time with poetry for many years.

Before reading Glossolalia, I had a very fuzzy picture in my mind of what reading a book of poetry would entail.  This picture included someone who is probably smarter than I am who would thoughtfully consider the various metaphors and phrase structures to uncover some secret deeper meaning behind each line.  It seemed so unlikely that I would actually enjoy the process in anything other than an academic way that I avoided getting started for quite some time, carrying the book around with me in my purse and never opening it.

When I finally started reading, what I found was an experience akin to flipping through a stranger’s family photo album or scrapbook, with portraits and little scraps of writing giving me brief glimpses into another family’s world.  It was intriguing and yes, even entertaining, to turn the pages and become temporarily immersed in a brand new world.  I found myself doing what I presume very poet hopes for:  reading and re-reading portions, sitting and pondering the images.  I studied the poems not as an academic, but as I would study a found photograph.

The second surprise was how it instilled a desire to learn more about the subject matter.

Glossolalia is an exploration of the world of the Church of Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s 34 wives, so when I refer to each poem as a portrait, it really is with each poem named after a wife (some wives get more than one), and provides a little glimpse into Dachsel’s imagination of what that particular woman’s experiences were like.

Some include actual found text written by a wife while others are simply inspired by her story. The back includes a chart of the women who married, and are suspected of having married Smith, their age, and marital status at the time of marrying him (Smith was not only allowed any woman as young as he wanted, but also any woman married to someone else within his church).  It also provides a breakdown of the wives who were siblings, mother/daughter, and those who Emma, his first wife, approved of.

All this information, combined with the evocative portraits painted through Dachsel’s words, created that desire to discover more about these women; who they were, and how they became a part of this life.  I wanted to find out what they looked like, see them with their children, and see them with Joseph Smith to figure out if I could discern any real love between them.  In her poetry, Daschel has shed light on women who were rendered almost invisible: a list of wives to a religious leader in a culture that didn’t care all that much for the value of women.

I was surprised by the strength, grace, and desire given to these women through poetry – and while I know that the poems are not biographical, it helped me remember that this list of 34 wives is also a list of 34 individual women, each with their own hopes, plans, and dreams.  Each with their own idea of what marriage to Joseph Smith meant.  Each with their own beliefs.

The last lines of the last poem read “there are many versions of the story/& you should be wise enough to know/that truth is filtered through tongues” and remain a reminder that these are imagined stories about real women, some tinged with more reality than others.  It is a reminder that each woman has her own version, that Joseph Smith had his own version and the husbands of the women who were already married have theirs.  And so it goes, through each person who has written about these people, to my version, today.

Anvil Press

Glossolalia is an unflinching exploration of sisterhood, motherhood, and sexuality as told in a series of poetic monologues spoken by the thirty-four polygamous wives of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Marita Dachsel’s second full-length collection, the self-avowed agnostic feminist uses mid-nineteenth century Mormon America as a microcosm for the universal emotions of love, jealousy, loneliness, pride, despair, and passion. Glossolalia is an extraordinary, often funny, and deeply human examination of what it means to be a wife and a woman through the lens of religion and history.  Available for purchase on

Andrea Loewen

Andrea LoewenAndrea is a theatre-maker, yoga instructor, writer and ally to the LGBTQ community in Vancouver. She spends her days as the Communications Manager for Pacific Theatre, and is Co-Artistic Producer for Xua Xua Productions, a founding member of Les Petites Taquines Dance Theatre, and the marketing chair for the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards Society. She writes a weekly column for and freelances as a yoga instructor and choreographer. When she has some down time she enjoys some green tea and quality time with her cat, Miss Gertie Marie.

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