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Laura Kasischke

Visiting Poet

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)

About Laura

Poetry Center Reading Dates: April 2017