What Can We Steal From Laura Kasischke’s “Perspective”?

Title of Work and its Form: “Perspective,” poem
Author:  Laura Kasischke
Date of Work: 2012
Where the Work Can Be Found: The poem debuted in Volume 32, Number 4 of New England Review.  Denise Duhamel and David Lehman subsequently selected “Perspective” for The Best American Poetry 2013 and you can find the poem in that anthology.

Bonuses:  This New York Times review of The Raising will make you want to pick up the book. Here is a poem Ms. Kasischke published in Poetry.  

Want to see Ms. Kasischke’s appearance at the 2012 National Book Festival?

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Similes and Metaphors

Discussion:
Ms. Kasischke’s poem is a fantastic example of the way in which a work of literature can be intensely personal to the author and audience alike.  The first three stanzas of the poem consists of comparisons related to massive upheaval and emotional epiphany.  After polishing up his or her lens, the narrator of the poem now understands the reality of the situation with respect to an unnamed “you.”  Simple and graceful and beautiful.

So what can we steal?  Well, look at the technique Ms. Kasischke uses in those first three stanzas.  They’re a collection of similes, aren’t they?

  • “Like the lake…”
  • “Like the Flood…”
  • “Like the sheet…”
  • “Like the sheet…” (it’s a different sheet in a different situation.)

Ms. Kasischke is also a little coy with the other half of the comparison, allowing you to fill in the blanks with something related to your own life or experience.  So why can’t we write a poem in which we make repeated comparisons in order to describe a situation or character.  For example, who is…

“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…”?

Why, it’s Superman, of course.  If you didn’t know about him before, you have a great idea of his powers after absorbing all of those metaphors.

If we want to stay with similes, we can toggle over to “as.”  How long will you love someone who is special to you?  For example:

As around the sun the earth knows she’s revolving
And the rosebuds know to bloom in early May
Just as hate knows love’s the cure
You can rest your mind assure
That I’ll be loving you always

Oh…Stevie Wonder beat us to that idea.

But that’s okay.  (Especially because Stevie Wonder is so incredibly talented and awesome.)  You can create your own list of similes or metaphors that will, through repetition, create a powerful rhetorical response in your reader.

Ms. Kasischke splits the poem (in my view) into two explicit sections.  The first three stanzas establish that something has changed in the narrator’s mind; he or she has reached some epiphany.  The second half describes the method by which this result was achieved: “The polished lens.”  Then the narrator informs the other person involved that he or she now knows the truth and that their relationship has changed.  First section: expression of understanding.  Second section: establishing consequences.

How did Ms. Kasischke make the transition so clear?  She could have easily split the poem into explicit sections:

I

Like the lake…

II

And the sudden…

What did Ms. Kasischke gain by structuring the poem the way she did?  Well, I love the way the poem flows.  In this case, the “I” and “II” stop our eye and would be a bit of a roadblock to our progressive understanding of the poem.  (You are free to disagree, of course!)  Still, Ms. Kasischke did not leave us adrift; she made it very easy for us to understand what she was doing.  How?

In the first three stanzas, Ms. Kasischke begins with four similes that employ “like” and then breaks the pattern with two more that omit “like.”  The pattern has broken down…there must be something new coming.  Further, the poet directly references a narrative and its “end” (in addition to its non-linear nature).

The next stanza pays off the hint of something new: “the sudden sense./ The polished lens.”  The lines are different and there are no more uses of “like.”  In fact, Ms. Kasischke even switches to “as if.”  And then there’s that “you,” a HUGE move considering that we learn the poem is now directed at a specific person.  We imagine this must be a separate section with a different intent.

See how we figure all of this out without being told in an explicit manner?

One last note…not a big one.  Ms. Kasischke capitalizes “Flood” in the fourth line of the poem.  I spent a couple of seconds wondering why.  Now, the author may have a completely different idea–which is perfectly fine–but I think that the capital F is a reference to one of the creation story floods that you find in so many mythologies around the world.  (I don’t want to assume which specific religion Ms. Kasischke might mean.  You know what happens when you assume.  You make an assu out of me.)

No matter which mythology she might be referencing, Ms. Kasischke, with the simple capitalization of a letter, ties the work into big-time stories that many people hold very close to their hearts.  I guess I’m not the only one who feels bad for an insect in the sink, a creature who just can’t understand why a tidal wave is overtaking their safe haven.  The fly is confused and hurt and scared.  The same way that everyone but Noah and his family members must have felt during the Flood in the Old Testament.  See?  Choosing “F” instead of “f” has made me think about huge ideas.

What Should We Steal?

  • List similes and metaphors to establish situation, emotion or character.  Like a pound puppy who is brought home by a loving family, I’m grateful for all of my Great Writers Steal fans.
  • Create sections in your work without section breaks.  What are some other ways that you can create the effects we earn from big transitions without flat-out telling the reader you’re making a big change?
  • Small changes in text can have big and meaningful ramifications.  A capitalized letter or switch from a period to a semi-colon can give your work a whole new depth.

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