Debra Gingerich’s first book of poetry, Where We Start, was published by Cascadia Publishing House in March 2007. Through contemplative lyrics, historical narratives and edgy prose poems, this collection of poetry probes the intersections of self and other, private and public, and the individual and community. The title, Where We Start, is a fitting description for the many ways that these poems explore the beginnings of and in a life, including cultural identity, childhood experiences, and a new marriage.
Gingerich’s poetry has been strongly influenced by her experiences as a part of a Mennonite community and explores the tensions between individual identity and community loyalty. This tension has been expanded as she also creatively investigates her husband’s unique and difficult Eastern European upbringing, born and raised in the former Yugoslavia where community loyalty turned into war.
These poems stay true to their complex questioning. With a sense of paradox and wit, a willingness to explore the poem’s surprising turns and defer comfort, Gingerich builds an impressive collection of poetry that is urgent and compelling to any reader willing to explore the dark corners and sharp turns of any life’s migration.
Poets Comments about Where We Start:
“These poems, windows onto worlds-within-this-world, stubbornly eschew the sentimental, buggy-riding, creamed corn version of ‘Mennonite.’ They serve up, instead, a complex, glinting, hard-edged testimony of faith, love, and history that ranges from barnyard to Balkans, tracing everything from recipes to bomb casings, a brave braille of the human heart that persists, that prevails. It’s a singular and courageous book.
“This is a strong collection, well-crafted, with rich layers of exploration and discovery. Gingerich’s look at heritage could be just one more book of response to the Mennonite heritage, but her voice is unique as it is tempered and sharpened by the heritage and culture of her husband, as well as other characters in her life, and her take on contemporary life. Gingerich’s relationship to her husband and his history is a poignant, probing stream through the collection. These are restless poems of inquiry, of keen observation, of loss and lament, and honest probing.”
“Debra Gingerich’s Where We Start is an aptly titled first collection which considers, from some distance, the landscape and people of her Mennonite community of origin in rural upstate New York. But there’s more than memory in these poems, which also chronicle cross-cultural marriage and the first thrusts of a playful, resistant, literary consciousness. Gingerich knows ‘there is no perfect place / for anyone,’ and it shows in her work that is mindfully linked to a violent history as well as recent wars and genocide. What she finds in the midst of this fallen world is, in her words, ‘another kind of paradise.’ And through her lovely images and willful assertions, she offers more than ‘mere plums of information, / tasty juice splashed onto a page.’”
“In smart, edgy and moving poems Debra Gingerich explores the sometimes volatile, sometimes quiet impact of social and political change. Whether it’s her own Mennonite background or her husband’s life in Eastern Europe as Yugoslavia was breaking apart, she shows us the effects of exile, both literal and internal. Indeed, these poems get under the skin to those inner landscapes where traumas and truths arrive ‘in the candor of night.’ Love and what endangers it, place and how it is violated, tradition in all its beauty and limitation—these poems take on major themes of our times with wit, clarity, and craft—and with the passionate intelligence of someone determined to make of the fragments a new world, in which lovers willingly learn not just to fly but how to ‘carry each other’s weight.’”