A Featured Review of
Poetry in America
Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Paperback: U of Pittsburgh Press, 2011.
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Reviewed By Alex Dye.
There is a universal longing, a part of the human condition, which causes one to reflect on and desire for the past. Whether a Christmas in which all of the siblings, uncles, and cousins attended and nobody was belligerently drunk, or that great Sunday afternoon movie spent in pajamas on the couch. We enjoy remembering our families, for better or for worse, and those influences which helped to shape us. And yet along with that nostalgia is a natural sense of loss, moments that cannot be recaptured or changed. In Poetry in America, author Julia Spicher Kasdorf writes on the paradoxical longing and loss by interweaving stories of the past and present with self -reflections on her person as an author, artist, mother, and woman.
In the epigraph, Kasdorf includes two quotes about birds, one from a traditional American folk song and another from Paul Valery, Choses Tues (1930) which says “One should be light like a bird, not like a feather.” She seeks to frame her life and work as active flight rather than passively being blown about by the wind. And so, she explores issues of her upbringing, the influences of her father and mother, the Mennonite church, related to her value as a woman and her journey of coming into her own.
Kasdorf appropriately chose Affirmative Action, a painting by Jerry Kearns, for the cover art. It depicts the tension between a traditional view of women and the desire to rise above those views by portraying a woman dressed and made up as a “traditional” housewife, holding a shovel and digging with fierce determination on her face with a cityscape in the background. In the same way, Kasdorf too exudes resolve while exploring and wrestling with her own place in relation to those roles. However, this is not merely a feminist treatise; it is an honest and intimate look at her own life, as well as life in general, in ways that beg the reader to identify themselves in her poetry.
In the first poem, “Double the Digits,” she writes about a game of speeding that she and her friends shared as teenagers when they would drive through the back roads of West Virginia.
“When my dad’s Plymouth Fury hit 78,
Weightless, on a crested curve of Route 136
and nearly flew into the grill
of a soda delivery truck, we swerved
toward a pole on Donna’s side, then
were gone before the guy hit his horn.”