Poet and novelist Laura Kasischke was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Michigan. Kasischke’s poetry is noted for its intelligent, honest portrayal of domestic and familial life, its explosively accurate imagery and dense soundscapes, and its idiosyncratic use of narrative.
Like silent naked monks huddled
around an old tree stump, having
spun themselves in the night
out of thought and nothingness –
– from ‘Mushrooms’
Kasischke's poems often magnify the epic qualities of universal and familiar experiences, like motherhood:
Once, I was as large
as any living creature could be.
I could lift the world and carry it
from my breast to its bath.
When I looked down from the sky
you could see the love in my eye:
“Oh, tiny world, if anything
ever happened to you, I would die.”
But, once, I was larger
than any other being –
larger, perhaps, than any being
had any right to be.
Because, of course, eventually, the world
grew larger, and larger, until it could lift
me up and put me down anywhere
These shoes in the palm of my hand?
You used to wear them on your feet.
This blanket the size of a hand towel?
I used to wrap it around you sleeping
in my arms like this. See? This
is how small the world used to be when
everything else in the world was me.
– from ‘Two Men & a Truck’
Publisher’s Weekly wrote that in her latest book, The Infinitesimals, Kasischke, “astonishes with her lyricism and metaphorical power as she considers illness and mortality through exacting, imaginative poems. The collection’s formal variety amplifies the mysterious, dreamy settings of these poems, which are grounded in their precise interrogations and astute observations.”
According to Stephen Burt in The New York Times: “No poet has tried so hard to cut through suburban American illusion while respecting the lives, young and old, that it nurtures or saves. No poet has joined the chasm of ontological despair to the pathos of household frustration so well as Kasischke at her best.”
That night a man cried
until I was ankle-deep in sleep,
and then up to my neck, wading
like a swimmer
or like a suicide
through the waves
of him crying
and into the deep
as icebergs cracked into halves,
as jellyfish, like thoughts, were
passed secretly between people.
– from ‘The Wall’
In a review of Space, in Chains for the National Book Critics Circle website, Burt describinged her innovative use of narrative: “No single story controls even a single poem,” Burt wrote. “Our lives are too strange, too inwardly wild, too outwardly unpredictable for that. Instead, the poet presents herself as angry, nostalgic, angry, skeptical, pious, distraught, glad and helpless by turns.”
These seagulls above the parking lot today, made of hurricane and ether, they
have flown directly out of the brain wearing little blue-gray masks, like strangers’ faces, full
of wingéd mania, like television in waiting rooms. Entertainment. Pain. The rage
of fruit trees in April, and your car, which I parked in a shadow before you died.
– from ‘Hospital parking lot, April’
Kasischke’s narrative expertise helps account for her dual career as a novelist. Of her nine novels, three have been made into feature films, including The Life Before Her Eyes (2002), which starred Uma Thurman. Taking on such weighty subjects as global pandemics and school shootings, Kasischke’s novels have nonetheless enjoyed broad popular appeal. In The New York Times, Erika Krouse noted the poetic qualities of Kasischke’s fiction: “It is not enough to say that Kasischke's language is ‘poetic,’ a word that has come to mean ‘pretty.’ Rather, her writing does what good poetry does – it shows us an alternate world and lulls us into living in it.”
Kasischke has won numerous awards for her poetry, including the National Book Critics Cirlce Award, Juniper Prize, the Beatrice Hawley Award, the Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award, the Bobst Award for Emerging Writers, and the Rilke Poetry Prize from the University of North Texas. She has also won several Pushcart Prizes, as well as received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.
Wild Brides, New York University Press, New York, NY, 1991
Housekeeping in a Dream, Carnegie Mellon University Press, Pittsburgh, PA, 1995
Fire and Flower, Alice James Books, Farmington, ME, 1998
What It Wasn't, Carnegie Mellon University Press, Pittsburgh, PA, 2002
Dance and Disappear, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA, 2002
Gardening in the Dark, Ausable Press, Keene, NY, 2004
Lilies Without, Ausable Press, Keene, NY, 2007
Space, in Chains, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA, 2011
The Infinitesimals, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA
Suspicious River, Houghton Mifflin, New York, NY, 1996
White Bird in a Blizzard, Hyperion Books, New York, NY, 1998
The Life Before Her Eyes, Harvest Books, New York, NY, 2002
Boy Heaven, HarperTeen, New York, NY, 2007
Be Mine, Mariner Books, New York, NY, 2007
Feathered, HarperTeen, New York, NY, 2008
In a Perfect World, Harper Perennial, New York, NY, 2009
Eden Springs, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MI, 2010
The Raising, Harper Perennial, New York, NY, 2011
Mind of Winter, HarperCollins, New York, 2014
New York Times: Terror of Teenage Life, Stephen Burt’s review of Kasischke’s The Raising and Space, In Chains.
Poem of the Day: After Ken Burns, audio.
Poem of the Day: Hospital parking lot, April, audio.
Poem of the Day: In This Order, audio.
Poem of the Day: Mushrooms, audio.
Poem of the Day: Rondeau, audio.
Poetry magazine podcast: Accident Plays a Part in Art, the editors talk with Kasischke on Ken Burns, Lindsay on Krakatau, Sheffield on fishing, and Logan on Hart Crane (and David Foster Wallace).
Poetry magazine podcast: Stitched to a Wish, Ashbery translations of Rimbaud, plus poems from Laura Kasischke, Atsuro Riley, and C.K. Williams.
Poetry magazine podcast: We All Exist, Wetley, poems from Sara Miller, Kelly Cherry, Barbara Perez, Matthew Nienow; plus Laura Kasischke on not liking Wallace Stevens.
Prose from Poetry magazine: Opusculum Paedagogum by Laura Kasischke.
Prose from Poetry magazine: Useful Old Rhymer by Laura Kasischke.