Poetry for Today—and Every Day
By Laura Kasischke
Copper Canyon Press
"the chaos of birdsong after a rainstorm, the steam rising off the asphalt, a small boy in boots opening the back door, stepping out, and someone calling to him from the kitchen..."
Time crawls in a hospital, repeats itself at the office, races past children as they grow from one year to the next, halts at a funeral, flies when you're having fun: Any writer who wants to describe a life in full must attend not only to what we do, who we know, how we feel, but also to how time feels as we do it.
Laura Kasischke is one of very few poets whose style now seems equal to that task. No poet alive has worked harder to depict the contemporary American life course: She has shown herself, in sharply vivid poems, as a girl, as a wayward teen, as a young adult, as a passionate and worried mother with a baby, a child, and now a teenaged son, and especially, in this eighth book of her poems, as an adult daughter whose parents fall ill, part of the so-called sandwich generation. And no poet now at work does better than Kasischke in finding ways to depict not just how we feel about life stages and the people in them but also how we change as those stages go by.
The story of her father's decline, and her reactions to it, resonate through the book from "My father asleep in a chair in a warm corridor.... While his boat, The Unsinkable, sails on, and sails on." It is a story as clearly told, in pieces, as you might expect from a successful novelist (two of Kasischke's novels are now films), but it is not a story that takes over the book. In fact (a persistent fact about Kasischke's poetry) no single story controls even a single poem. Our lives are too strange, too inwardly wild, too outwardly unpredictable for that. Instead, the poet presents herself as angry, nostalgic, skeptical, pious, distraught, glad and helpless by turns. How to feel—how to articulate a single feeling—about this sort of event?
For the complete text of this article, see the National Book Critic's Circle blog, The Critical Mass.