You Haven't Asked About My Wedding or What I Wore

Poems of Courtship on the American Frontier

Jana Harris

Jana Harris

Distributed for University of Alaska Press

160 pages | 28 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2014
Paper $17.95 ISBN: 9781602232358 Published October 2014
“Nowhere / on these parchment leaves do I find / myself, my likeness, my name, / not a whisper—Cynthia—not one / breath of me.”

For thirty years poet Jana Harris researched the diaries and letters of North American pioneer women. While the names and experiences of the authors varied, Harris found one story often connected them: their most powerful memories were of courtships and weddings. They dreamed of having a fine wedding while they spent their lives hauling water, scrubbing floors, and hoping for admirers. Many married men they hardly knew.

Based on primary research of nineteenth-century frontier women, Harris uses her compelling poetry to resurrect a forgotten history. She captures the hope, anxiety, anger, and despair of these women through a variety of characters and poetic strategies, while archival photographs give faces to the names and details to the settings. Harris’s meticulous research and stirring words give these pioneer women a renewed voice that proves the timelessness of the hopes and fears of love and marriage.
Ann McCutchan, author of River Music: An Atchafalaya Story and Circular Breathing: Meditations from a Musical Life
“In this compelling collection, Jana Harris, poet and longtime researcher of the pioneer era, imagines and animates the voices of 19th-century women as they adapt to the frontiers of marriage and the American West. While Harris’s vivid language and imagery offer more than enough pleasures to delight and sustain the reader, it is her remarkably intuitive grasp of individual lives (inner and outer) that makes this book an exceptional, complex realization of time, place and experience. It might be said Harris has written a novel in poems—a novel one can’t put down.”
Janet Sternburg, author of Phantom Limb; White Matter: A Memoir of Family and Medicine; The Writer on Her Work
“Harris is the bard of pioneer women’s voices in the Northwest and now . . . it is clear that she is speaking for a vast American experience in the nineteenth century, one that resonates to this very day. . . . ‘Who can account,’ she writes in her rendering of the voice of Lucy Stevens from Oregon, 1875, ‘for what catches in memory’s cogs?’ It is the American experience that has caught in Harris’ cogs and here she gives it back to us in all its glory.”
Suzanne Lebsock, author of A Murder in Virginia: Southern Justice on Trial
“In poems at once accessible and deep, Jana Harris brings to vibrant life the women who pioneered the Pacific Northwest. While they faced an array of common struggles, in Harris’s wise telling they emerge nonetheless as unforgettable individuals."
Valerie Miner, author of Traveling with Spirits
You Haven’t Asked About My Wedding or What I Wore is both a wrenching history lesson and a lyrical celebration of courage."
Louise Bernikow, author of Among Women and Dreaming in Libro: How a Good Dog Tamed a Bad Woman
"A marvel of storytelling and a totally unique way of breathing life into stuffy archives, making women’s lives hum, with its acute sense of place and language. It’s a thrilling, daring work.”
Contents
Foreword
 
The Gift of a Found Half Moon
Mary Hallen, Western Ontario, Canada, 1850
 
Typus Orbis Terrarum
Lucy Thompson, Second Wife of Rev. Jason Lee, 1839
(A Mighty Fortress Is Our God)
 
Considering Her Answer to a Letter Sent By Emigrant, Addressed: “Catherine Sager, Somewhere in Oregon”
Catherine Sager Pringle, age 19, December 21, 1854, Salem, Oregon Territory
 
While Preparing to Ride to a Cayuse Village of New Converts Inundated by Measles, Dr. Marcus Whitman Inventories His Pack Horse’s Bags While Considering: Which Sermon,Which Psalms, Which Prayers
near Ft. Walla Walla, Oregon Country, November 1847
 
Lament of the Slatted Sunbonnets
Kate Thomas (b. 1841)
(Every Stormy Wind That Blows)
 
Cloth
Elizabeth Millar Wilson (b. 1830), The Dalles, Oregon
 
The Doll
Marianne Hunsaker Edwards D’Arcy (b. 1842), Oregon City
 
The Stove
Martha Gay Masterson Remembers October 28, 1852, Eugene, Oregon Territory
 
Brother Churchianity’s Garden
Matilda Sager Delaney (b. 1839)
 
An Answer for Mr. Anderson
Sarah Jane Sturgess, age 13½, 1851, near Ft. Vancouver, Oregon Territory
 
That Long Looked-For Day
Elder Edgerton’s Confidential Advice to Courting Gentlemen,Western Ontario, Canada, 1862
 
Verbena Tea and Dill Hinder Witches of Their Will
The Jottings of Granny Wintersteen, undated
 
Cynthia, Judge Stafford’s First Wife
Auburn (Baker County), Oregon, March 24, 1863
 
About These Trumpeters That Line My Walls
Elizabeth Shepard Holtgrieve (b. 1840)
 
Mrs. Darby, Third Cousin to a Royal Confectioner, Gives Advice on Baking a Wedding Cake Modeled after the Spire atop London’s St. Bride’s Church—for Fifty Guests including Keepsakes,
Spokane, Washington Territory, 1859
 
The Brides of Christ Consider the Hunger of 100 Children, the 40 Sick, and Many Old Men Who Linger without Relative or Memory
Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart to Sister Mary of the Precious Blood, Mission of the Sisters of Providence, Ft. Vancouver, Washington Territory, 1864
 
The Widow: Her Song without Words, sans Piano
Elizabeth Paschal Dillon Gay (b. 1838)
At First, Judge Bacon was Reluctant to allow his Daughter to be Courted by the Son of a
Blacksmith
(Jésus et Marie, ma force et ma gloire)
 
The Matter of the Raspberries
Mother Veronica of the Crucifix Petitions the Bishop of Montreal, St. Mary’s Academy,
Portland, Oregon, 1865
(Je Mets Ma Confiance)
 
How We Got On
Reverend T. L. Jones (b. 1841), Portland, Oregon
 
The Grass Hunter
Justin Gibson, 1867
 
On the Second Through Train
The Widow Jones (Sarah Ann Givens) Recalls Her Honeymoon,May 10, 1869
 
The Gift of Granny Wintersteen
New Harmony, Kansas, 1869
 
Lucy Ann Shows Off Her Scrapbook and Talks about the Art of Regulating Temperatures
Lucy Ann Henderson Deady (b. February 26, 1835)
 
Kelp
Lucy Stevens, Ocean House, Newport, Oregon, 1875
 
Gifted to Miss Lydia Corum upon her Marriage to Anderson Deckard
Amanda Gardener Johnson (b. 1833, Slave State of Missouri), Albany, Oregon
 
As Granny Wintersteen Unpacks Her Midwife’s Case, She Realizes That She Has Forgotten Her Collapsible Shovel Used for Sterilizing Linens by Fire
Boise, 1877
 
Kloh-Kloh
Lotta Gilham’s Mother Talks about the Early Years, Tillamook Country, Oregon, 1870s
 
Cutting Her Out from the Flock
Wagonwheel George, Cold Creek, Montana, 1888
 
A Good Many Brides Today Are a Pampered Self-Indulgent Lot
Fidelia Munson, near Boise, 1893
 
Ida Mae Recalls the Broken Plates of Her China Anniversary
Mrs. William Dutton (b. 1860), Heppner, Oregon
(How Firm a Foundation)
 
You Haven’t Asked about My Wedding or What I Wore
Belle Bishop (b.186—), Pendleton, Oregon
(Abide with Me)
 
Brown Cloth-Covered Diary of Memoranda & Cash Accounts
Emily French, Denver, 1890
 
A Bridesmaid’s Tale
Minnie Griffith Gupton, 1893
 
If No Impediment Shall Be Alleged
The Gift of Aunt Rebecca Miller, 1893
(Oh Promise Me)
 
Afterword
Acknowledgments
Notes on Hymns, Music, and Lyrics
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