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What We’re Reading: Kathryn Kysar

2011 May 12

Kathryn Kysar’s collection of poems, Pretend the World, published by Minnesota’s Holy Cow! Press, heaves with the natural world, motherhood, war, and rock n’ roll.

The gems in this collection are plenty and shiny. Kysar is one of those writers who effortlessly links the natural world to current events – which is something extremely difficult to do effectively without sounding contrived. In her poem “Last October,” she writes:  “The goose, fat and / heavy at the lake’s edge, / is the weight of war / in a mother’s heart.”  With simple grace, Kysar transitions to heavier and more controversial topics, adding a new level of perception to our surrounding great outdoors.

Another one of Kysar’s strengths is her ability to surprise the reader with unexpected connections and transition, without leaving the reader behind.  A pleasantly surprising poem: “The Effects of Loud Rock and Roll on an Unborn Fetus.”  This poem begins with a baby in a womb getting to know the natural sway and habits of its mother. Then, the tone switches with the baby being exposed to the raw gasps and screams of rock n’ roll, absorbing the music’s pulse through the mother’s body.

The only thing holding this collection back are instances in which Kysar lets herself get wordy. The occasional run-on sentences teeming with adjectives disrupt the natural pace. This could be avoided by manipulating breath and stops through punctuation or form. She does a lot of formal experimentation in Act 3 of the collection that I wish could’ve been sprinkled throughout the dense first two Acts.

Sample Poem:

“Little Witches” by Kathryn Kysar

We burn incense,

eat crackers until

salt stings our tongues,

our thirst unquenchable,

our flames unsated.


We create

animals in our bellies,

kissing pillows, stomachs,

our own religion.

We glide fingers to nipples

pointing like prayers.

Our tongues intertwine.

We form one animal,

one womb.