April 1, 2019 at 11:30 pm

Lit Fest: Quiet Triumph–The Unmatchable Poetry and Prose of Laura Kasischke | April 3-5

Laura Kasischke, portrait

Laura Kasischke

Learn more about Laura Kasischke’s work and Lit Fest events.

By Madison Foltz

The Poetry Foundation describes Laura Kasischke’s poetry as “noted for its intelligent, honest portrayal of domestic and familial life, its explosively accurate imagery and dense soundscapes, and its idiosyncratic use of narrative.” No poem of hers encapsulates those descriptions better than “In this order”:

A tail, a torso, a tiny face.

A longing, a journey, a deep belief.

A spawning, a fissioning, a bit of tissue

anchored to a psyche,

stitched to a wish.

Watery. Irony. Memory. My

mother, my face, and then


the last thing

she’d ever see, and then

the last words

I’d hear her say: You’re 

killing me.


Kasischke excels in packing her poetry, however brief, with the kinds of vivid yet delicate images in this poem. The voice comes through as honest and crystal-clear as Kasischke’s speakers dwell on powerful memories and as she makes deft use of page space. In “Game,” Kasischke again reflects on her mother, playing with the passage of time in phrasing that is deceptively simple and perfectly developed:


I thought we were playing a game

in a forest that day.

I ran as my mother chased me.


But she’d been stung by a bee.

Or bitten by a snake.

She shouted my name, which


even as a child I knew was not

“Stop. Please. I’m dying.”


Kasischke then makes a flawless transition to a more retrospective voice, one not obscured by nostalgia. The rhythms are staccato, the language rich and dripping with emotion, and the final stanza evokes a deep sadness:


And by the time


I was willing to admit that

all along

all along

I’d known it was no game


I was a grown woman, turning

back, too late.


Laura Kasischke will be a featured author at this year’s Spring Literary Festival, which runs from April 3rd through April 5th. A Theodore Roethke Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan, Kasischke has authored ten collections of poetry as well as full handfuls of novels. She has received wide praise and numerous awards for her work, including a National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, the Juniper Prize, and the DiCastagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America. She has also received two creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as a Guggenheim fellowship. Kasischke, though, has developed a following as a multi-genre practitioner of bracing, brilliant works that explore the intimate and the universal.

Kasischke’s strength in establishing a strong narrative voice—seen in the excerpts above—emerges in her fiction as well. As in her poetry, she provides authentic representations of domestic life, motherhood, and love, but much of her prose also explores the thriller genre, tackling topics from global pandemics to coming-of-age drama. Her characters are well-crafted, her storytelling engaging, and she retains a poetic attention to language in her novels, creating the relative rarity: the aesthetically challenging page-turner. (Three of her novels—Suspicious River, The Life Before Her Eyes, and White Bird in a Blizzard—have been adapted into feature films, which speaks to the wide allure of her work.)

Kasischke’s voice is reserved and finely honed, making her work a pleasure to read no matter its subject, and as Stephen Burt wrote in his review of her collection The Raising (2001), “as much as she gathers odd images from her own memory, Kasischke knows how she, too, is typical. She knows how even the strangest lives follow simple patterns—we are born, we grow up, we nurture or fail to nurture children, we do our work or fail to do it, we die.”

While we’re here, though, we should make sure to encounter writers who radically enliven. In her unmatched devotion to the craft and her wide-ranging curiosity, Laura Kasichke is one such writer.




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