Space, In Chains

I am poetry impaired.  If I needed any proof of that it came this week when I decided to read outside my box and selected the collection Space, In Chains by Laura Kasischke.  Space, In Chains was selected as a New York Times Notable Book, Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.

With all my impaired eagerness I dived into the book, reading the dedication, reading the acknowledgments and the first poem.  The second poem, called “Contents”, appeared to be a list of words followed by some sequential numbers and I pondered over that poem for awhile until I realized it really was the table of contents for the collection.

Hmmmm…this poetry stuff is always so challenging.

Eventually I did actually find the real first poem in the book and read the entire work in two sittings.  While it does not take a long time to read a poem, I found myself re-reading most of the poems at least a second time.  What often befuddles me about poetry is I feel like there is a knowledge base I am not privy to and therefore my mind is constantly reminding me that I sit outside the circle.  I am not worthy.

While the structure of and the narrative flow within Kasischke’s poetry still challenged me, the images created by the words did not.  In fact, they made me read these poems and read them again.  I kept coming back to individual phrases that stood out.  Here are a few examples:

The kind of song a quiet man might build a silent house around – from “Song”

The daughter of the owner of the Laundromat has washed my sheets in tears –  from “Time”

War rolls down the side of the Mountain of Grief so peacefully – from “Recipe for Disaster”

It was relatively easy to determine the theme of most of the works with the topics of regret and grief being the standouts.  Here is a sample of how that was displayed:

You’ll always remember me, my mother said, but someday you’ll no longer be sad about me – from “Atoms On Loan”

When I built my luminous prison around you, you simply lay down at the center of it and died – from “You”

And perhaps my favorite of the work:

Who knew those bees making
honey of our grief? Who knew
that the workmen,
hired to be fair, would knock down the airy
wall one morning
between us
and neither of us would be there? – from “Four Men”

If you are looking for a work of poetry to discuss, this award winning effort proved to me that the issue of the approachability of the form may best be solved by reading the right poet for the reader.  Just as with prose, the group will decide but for me, a found a beautiful place to retreat to in the poetry of Space, in Chains.




About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

2 Comments on "Space, In Chains"

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  1.' Shelley says:

    You’re not poetry impaired. As a writer in that strange field, I can tell you that a big part of the problem is that so many contemporary poems are beyond the pale of human interest and curiosity.

    It doesn’t have to be that way, but it often is.

  2.' Gerald Armstrong says:

    Don’t beat yourself up – everybody has their own methods to appreciate any literary work, including poetry. Even writers themselves have a hard time trying to appreciate ad give meaning to another person’s work. .

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