When reading Space, in Chains, I would command my sister, my mother, my friends: “listen to this poem.” I recited Kasischke’s poetry out loud at the dinner table; I scanned her words as subways hurtled beneath boroughs; I listened to her phrases reverberate in my head.
Laura Kasischke made me cry on the Manhattan-bound F train last Tuesday morning. Her effortlessly breath-taking set of poems in Space, in Chains mesmerized me. I will admit, when I first read her biography in the back of her book, I felt intimidated. Guggenheim Fellowship, NEA Fellowship, several Pushcart prizes; it often seems like the more accolades a poet receives, the less accessible he or she becomes to readers. When I read poetry, I want to read something that will move me, inspire me, not befuddle me, however bourgeois this seems. Of course, poetry, and all good writing, possesses an element of mystery, something we as readers must unravel. Kasischke’s poetry possesses this quality; without being explicit, she provides a set of images, which juxtaposed create meaning.
In “My son makes a gesture my mother used to make,” Kasischke describes her son “fluttering” his fingers as if to “disperse” the sun. This gesture is similar to one her mother, whom her son has never met, use to do. Kasischke describes the sun as “drifting ashes of a drifting past […] petals of some exploded yellow roses. The sense of uncontainability Kasischke evokes by using this imagery is further heightened when she exclaims: “the miracle of it./The double helix of it.” Within this poem, she tells a story of a bully on a playground who buried a toad in a jar in a sandbox, digging it up a month later to find it still alive. This allegory suggests that although gestures may be repressed, buried with loved ones who die, we unexpectedly find them still alive, pulsating. She describes looking at the “illustration in a textbook of a protective sheath of protein wrapped around a strand of DNA, all cartoon spirals and billiard balls” and seeing the “sole hope” of the biology teacher, who “enraged” by the blank expressions of his students “slammed” the textbook shut and walked away. What Kasischke captures in this final statement, and in this entire poem, is the notion that life and genetics encompasses so much more than the simple biology lectures we are taught in high school and the mere doodles of DNA. In noticing her son’s gesture, the one which mimics the grandmother he has never met, Kasischke evokes the visceral and the sublime.
Though I’ve dog-eared half of the pages in this collection, one of my memorable favorites was Kasischke’s haunting poem, “Swan Logic.” Kasischke initially provides the image of a lone swan gliding across a pond while three other swans lay “slaughtered/ at the edge of the pond.” She contrasts this image with a car accident in which all children are killed except for one.
The repetition and alliteration Kasischke employs in this poem increases poem’s evocatively poignant quality: “Swan stillness and swan slaughter still circling the center of the swan.” The reverberations echo the fear and terror this poem captures. Without becoming sappy or clichéd, Kasischke captures the shock and grief of mourning.
In “My beautiful soul,” Kasischke writes about giving a beggar a dollar. The beggar thanks her “profusely”: “Thank you, thank you, bless you, beautiful/ lady with your beautiful soul…” This gratitude leads Kasischke to grapple with a set of paradoxical images: a telescope “toppled/ over onto the grass;” “some water lilies and a skull in a decorative pond/ and a tiny goldfish swimming/ like an animated change-purse/ made of brightness and surprises/ observing the moment through its empty eye;” “toss[ing] a postcard/ of the ocean into the ocean.” She concludes: “my stupid dollar, my beautiful soul.” In relation to these provoking images, the final line of this poem indicates how from something so insignificant (a dollar), greatness (soul) can be gleaned. Kasischke heeds her attention to the ironies within this, revealing her intelligence and sensitivity as a poet.
When reading Space, in Chains, I would command my sister, my mother, my friends: “listen to this poem.” I recited Kasischke’s poetry out loud at the dinner table; I scanned her words as subways hurtled beneath boroughs; I listened to her phrases reverberate in my head. As a reader and writer, discovering Kasischke’s work is a privilege for which I am grateful. I look forward to reading her other collections of poetry and novels with pleasure and excitement.