Visiting Poets

Laura Kasischke

Laura Kasischke

Laura Kasischke has claimed “There’s no such thing as too much passion when it comes to art or responding to it.” Her trenchant, provocative poems are committed to finding new ways of seeing—and she sees poetry as “ancient and sacred and strange.” Praised by the Austin American-Statesman for “the subtle, ingenious way she turns a phrase”, Kasischke crafts lines that are sincere, precise, and mysterious—which qualities are manifested throughout her work. Each new moment offers insight unlike any other: the poem “After Ken Burns” begins with a meditation on “the beautiful plate I cracked in half as I wrapped it in tissue paper– / as if the worship of a thing might be the thing that breaks it.”

Kasischke often begins with one image and seems to build by feeling though the dark to create poems that resemble vivid associative collages. The intricate universe of each poem allows her to embody the confessional in hundreds of different atmospheres. In “Aqua” she describes “the cool kiss of a fetus”, while in “The Two Witnesses” she writes about keeping the company of a dying woman, “both / of us crawling in through the other’s / eyes, depositing, then leaving.” She has a unique gift for capturing the sweet aches of both youth and aging, which may be why The Boston Review described her as “the poet of high school cliques remembered and terminal wards observed”—her range truly spans from birth to death.

Kasischke’s projects each introduce a different vocabulary of symbol, atmosphere, and mood, and have drawn attention and praise from many quarters. Writes Stephen Burt, “Kasischke precisely renders the experience we have of ourselves as physical and time-bound beings existing in a psychological and spiritual realm that seems to have no barriers of laws.”  In collection after collection, she threads her unique rhythm and sound through each image, bending matter at her will and transforming the commonplace into something luminous and surreal. Kasischke’s most recent books are Space, in Chains (2011), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Infinitesimals (2014), which the LA Times applauded for demonstrating “confidently and prolifically . . . how [she] can encompass the pathos, the pleasure, and the terrifyingly unpredictable limits to the course of one life.”

Speaking of prolific, Kasischke is a literary multi-talent, having published ten collections of poetry, ten novels, and a collection of short stories. The film adaptation of her novel The Life Before Her Eyes (2007), starring Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood, was praised by Vanity Fair writer Graham Fuller as “a beautifully etched, haunting meditation on the choices young women make.” Kasischke’s many honors include the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America and fellowships from National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. She lives in Chelsea, Michigan, with her husband and son, and teaches at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, as the Allan Seager Collegiate Professor of English Language and Literature.

Select Poems

The one I didn’t go on.

I was thirteen,
and they were older.
I’d met them at the public pool. I must

have given them my number. I’m sure

I’d given them my number,
knowing the girl I was…

It was summer. My afternoons
were made of time and vinyl.
My mother worked,
but I had a bike. They wanted

to go for a ride.
Just me and them. I said
okay fine, I’d
meet them at the Stop-n-Go
at four o’clock
And then I didn’t show.

I have been given a little gift ––
something sweet
and inexpensive, something
I never worked or asked or said
thank you for, most
days not aware
of what I have been given, or what I missed ––

because it’s that, too, isn’t it?
I never saw those boys again.
I’m not as dumb
as they think I am

but neither am I wise. Perhaps

is it the best
afternoon of my life. Two
cute and older boys
pedaling beside me –– respectful, awed. When we

turned down my street, the other girls see me…

Everything as I imagined it would be.

Or, I am in a vacant field. When I
stand up again, there are bits of glass and gravel
ground into my knees.
I will never love myself again.
Who knew then
that someday I would be

thirty-seven, wiping
crumbs off the kitchen table with a sponge,
them, thinking
of this ––

those boys still waiting
outside the Stop-n-Go, smoking
cigarettes, growing older.

From DANCE AND DISAPPEAR (University of Massachusetts Press, 2002)

My ex-husband in the bulk food aisle
with an empty plastic bag, an infant
daughter, a blond son.
Wow. Hi. We hug. Plenty. Really. More than enough.

There is a kind of fog that rises only so high. Some
mornings, if you lie down on the lawn, it makes

a perfect shroud. Some mornings, if you sit
with your back against the picket fence, it
makes a nice shawl. True, too, that if

you put your ear to the center
of a soufflé, you can hear
the wind in there, no

longer desiring, not
the least bit dangerous.
Works just as well with a paper plate.

And the river, all this time, the river
has been rolling on and on, carrying
with it the infinite
scraps of silver lamé
that every river snatches
from the baggage of the desperate as it passes. Look:

Over there, two spectres,
unable to hold one another,
try to dance a sad waltz,

while, over there, two shadows ludicrously attempt
to strangle each other against a wall.
And here, here

in the bulk food aisle, I find
myself suddenly come to gather

ghostly figs, the sweet
weightless figs of amnesia, the pale
wasted figs of the gods––

gathering them shamelessly, grabbing them, tossing

them all
by fistfuls and handfuls
into a basket, a basket
with no bottom, a basket
weaved of imaginary straw

and manure and moss––and you, you

with your clear flimsy bag––harmless,
a lie, a small lie, a lie
told simply out of kindness. Such

a surprise! Christ,
so many years
of gathering and laughter––and fairly

decent intentions,
and pretty good times,
and this warm hug after, and still

you could be walking straight through me without a
and I could be strolling across your grave with a smile.

From GARDENING IN THE DARK (Ausable Press, 2004)

so far behind the others
in their neat little v, in their
competence of plans and wings, if
you didn’t listen you would think
it was a cry for help
or sympathy––
friends! friends!––
but it isn’t.

Silence of the turtle on its back in the street.
Silence of the polar bear pulling its wounded weight onto the ice.
Silence of the antelope with a broken leg.
Silence of the old dog asking for no further explanation.

was it I believed I was
God’s favorite creature? I,
who carry my feathery skeleton across the sky now, calling
out for all of us. I, who am doubt now, with a song.

From SPACE, IN CHAINS (Copper Canyon Press, 2010)

Poetry Center Reading

Spring 2017