Refreshingly uncomplicated stuff, in some ways. Kasischke is also a novelist, the biographical note in the back says, and I think it shows - the poems start at point A, goes through its variations, and ends at a definite, farther point. The endings aren't earth shattering, but they're definite endings that belong to the poems. And going back to the collection now, I'm surprised by the prevalence of alliteration and assonance, exact and slant rhymes, and repetitions of phrases and lines - in short, all the usual accoutrement of verse, as opposed to prose. There's also an interesting rhythm to the poems, where short lines are contrasted against long lines (which don't lose their energy), and long lines become prose-poem paragraphs (or really, really long lines?). It's unusual and great, all for being so unfussy, I think. As a reviewer noted in the New York Times, this is a very sure hand, relaxed because it is in control.
But Kasischke's main weapon is the lovely and lovingly surreal image. At times (such as in "My son practicing the violin"), I find the images a little too indulgent, but most of the time they're effective and memorable by being strange yet not wildly strange or bizarre. Time for a long quotation to show what I'm saying:
A knife plunged into the center
of summer. Air
and terror, which become teeth together.
The pearl around which the sea
formed itself into softly undulating song--
This tender moment when my father
gives a package of cookies to my son.
They have been saved
from the lunch tray
in a sponge. The expressions on both of their faces. A memory I will carry with me always, and which will sustain me, despite all the years I will try to prescribe this memory away.
There, some lovely images that seem simple enough, but get stranger the more you think about it. I should also say that Kasischke's novelist experience also shows in that the poems are full of characters and incidents. Sometimes they get quite dark (as in "Swan logic"), and pain and illness figure prominently in the collection, but there's always a dramatic situation - charged and poetic - to draw you in and move you along. As the dramatic situation is something that's too often missing in new poetry (see my review of Bruce Smith), this is in itself no mean achievement, I think.
I have just one slight reservation, which relates to my remembrance of these poems after the fact. I don't know if it's the length of the collection (which could be trimmed of a good batch of less artful poems, I think), but I find that even as I want to return to the collection, I don't remember the individual poems particular well and they tend to blur together. The poems are a little too similar in their characteristic movements, and in the sentimental cast of their images, perhaps. But that's probably a result of the huge number of poems, and in any case I do find myself returning to the collection and finding fresh things in it. The images remain very lovely. Highly recommended!