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Jascha Kessler

Jascha Kessler Essay - Critical Essays

Kessler, Jascha

Kessler, Jascha 1929–

Kessler is an American short story writer, poet, critic, novelist, and playwright. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20.)

Jascha Kessler's collection of stories [An Egyptian Bondage, and Other Stories] attempts a new bridging of two worlds, the actual and the hallucinatory. Here the exactness of tone is everything—or should have been everything; if the stories sometimes tend to reach too far for too little, or for too little that is defined, they are never without interest. That is not a backhanded compliment; the interest comes repeatedly as a surprise, and even the most tenuous of the stories keeps poking around inside one's head long after the book is done.

Eliot Fremont-Smith, in The New York Times (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 10, 1967, p. 45.

The stories in Jascha Kessler's collection, An Egyptian Bondage …; read as if they were out of an earlier era, and a luckier one. Frank, subjective, bristling with provacation, they are quite unlike the dim and arbitrary cavalcade of fiction that glides through the quarterlies. Though their style is luxuriant, it remains in service to the plot, in contrast to the language of the '60s which, no sooner liberated, starts possessing its creator like some whirling dervish. Jascha Kessler's subject is often work, as it loomed in our anxieties in a period when a good job was hard to find and usually desperately needed, even by teen-agers. The more we prosper and assume the availability of jobs, the less attention our fiction directs toward this absorbing segment of life. But these stories involve us from the start by their curiosity about it, especially about the middle-echelon service jobs that ferment discontent from above and below. Caddies, delivery-boys, hotel stewards, fund-raisers—these men-between make up the cast of An Egyptian Bondage.

Isa Kapp, "Versions of Initiation," in The New Leader, February 12, 1968, pp. 20-1.

Kessler is an old-fashioned contemporary. This is not condemnation with faint praise but a salute to one who rejects obscurantism as a matter of principle. His classical orientation and esthetic sensibility give the poems [in Whatever Love Declares] a substance that requires close reader attention. Yet they speak of everyday things, love, family, the landscape, all within a framework of mildly philosophical argumentation spiced with pessimism and perhaps a little guilt. The poems are temperate but strong and honest.

Jerome Cushman, in Library Journal (reprinted from the March 1, 1970, issue of Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1970 by Xerox Corporation), March 1, 1970.

Kessler … celebrates through his own life, the mystery of birth and love and death….

Kessler is a complex and sentient writer, no mere observer. He is both the experiment and the experimenter. His materials [for the poems in Whatever Love Declares] come from life felt, and penetrated for meaning, with the lens of satire, invocation and elegy. He has the gift of evocation as well—not only in personal experience, but in the relationship of abstraction and life….

Perspective is Kessler's quest. A fix on himself and his life, not solely the personal history, but the times in which he lives.

Robert Kirsch, "The Book Report," in The Los Angeles Times (copyright, 1970, Los Angeles Times; reprinted by permission), March 13, 1970.

Jascha Kessler's After the Armies Have Passed … is a collection of poetry which speaks eloquently to our condition and evokes as well those responses beyond words which are the measure of a poet's gift to us….

It is a measure of Kessler's work that he never offers the easy prescriptions of instant solutions. His experience is individual; his evocation universal. As a poet he is not readily cataloged. He celebrates the private voice, the individual history. And yet its overtones seem to have resonance in us….

The secret theme is love, not the facile illusion of love which salves and redeems, but the complex connection between one human and another, man and woman, man past and woman past, parent and child, teacher and student. Redemption, salvation, change, growth are never easy matters for people shelled like tortoises wandering, "fitted for the lives we lead—/these beaks, these strong legs for our shells."

But in the end, as in "Surfer in Winter": "There's never someone else,/There's only you alone./If it's right and you're walking on water, coming in from the sea/as if you were just born—/though you never reach shore."

Robert Kirsch, "The Book Report," in The Los Angeles Times (copyright, 1971, Los Angeles Times; reprinted by permission), December 8, 1971, p. 19.