Laura Kasischke Essay - Critical Essays


The titles of Laura Kasischke’s poetry collections are indicative of one trait of her writing: contradiction. Instead of being chaste and pure, the brides are wild (Wild Brides); instead of what it was, it is What It Wasn’t. Fire and Flower presents an obvious, stark contrast, and even Housekeeping in a Dream suggests a dichotomy between the mundane and the unreal. Another dominant feature of her poetry is its frequent emphasis on death, pain, and the macabre, which are often seen as beautiful in their own way. Indeed, this transfiguring of horror, decay, and the sorrows of mundane life into images of strange beauty may be the hallmark of Kasischke’s poetry.

Wild Brides

Wild Brides, Kasischke’s first published collection of poems, set the stage for what was to come. Dedicated to musician Pete Siers, who was her husband at the time, the collection includes the striking poem “Timespan,” in which the narrator imagines her mother dying of scarlet fever, herself as “the coldness at the center/ of that scalding body. . . .” The grandmother is separated, isolated outside the room for fear of contagion, unable to comfort her daughter. The heat and cold, as well as the red and white, starkly contrast, sometimes beautifully—“. . . I/ lurch out of the frozen ground then full-/ bloomed and red as a poison rose”—and sometimes grotesquely—“the red strings of shredded flesh/ gorgeous between her daughter’s gleaming teeth”—although always paradoxically. The title tells all in the finely crafted testament to love “Woman Kills Sweetheart with Bowling Ball.” “Solomon Grundy” charts the course of the folklore character in an especially grisly way, replete with mucous, bloodsuckers, a pierced bladder, houseflies sleeping in feces, amputated toes, and the image of his mother picking maggots from her son’s eye—with sucking slugs thrown in for good measure. Not every poem is so horrific, but the effect is cumulative. “Arms” is about a group of children and a pregnant woman killed at a church picnic by an exploding bomb. In “Rosebush,” the narrator digs up a buried grandfather while planting the title bush, another juxtaposition between the beautiful and the horrid. Death figures in “Porch” and “Old Women,” while “To Whom It May Concern” contains hints of incest. Perhaps the best line to sum up the book’s content is from “Coloma Lanes”: “. . . how much does a worm suffer anyway?

Housekeeping in a Dream

Kasischke continued her fascination with the morbid in her second collection, which was dedicated to her deceased mother. The tenor of Housekeeping in a Dream can be observed by noting some of the titles of the poems: “Gawkers Block Traffic After Accident,” “Murdered Girls,” “Conspiracies,” “Grand Rapids Woman Last Seen at Motel 6,” and “Exploding Homes.” One poem stands out for its use of language to yet again connect apparent opposites. In “Local Legend,” the narrator finds God in the carcass of a greyhound in which bees have made a hive. The...

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