Friday, 14 September 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: Laura Kasischke's "O elegant giant"

O elegant giant

And Jehovah. And Alzheimer. And a diamond of extraordinary size on the hand of a starving child. The quiet mob in a vacant lot. My father asleep in a chair in a warm corridor. While his boat, the Unsinkable, sits at the bottom of the ocean. While his boat, the Unsinkable, waits marooned on the shore. While his boat, the Unsinkable, sails on, and sails on.

"O elegant giant" is the opening poem of American poet Laura Kasischke's award-winning eighth collection, Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon, 2011); many thanks to the author for the permission to reprint this poem here. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her website.

In the UK you can order Space, in Chains from Foyle's


Unknown said...

This small prose poem is very thought provoking. The use of the short sentences to start, and the short clauses in the end keep the pace quite slow. By adding in the longer sentences in the middle, keeps it from becoming choppy, but the reader takes in every word. The repetition of the word ‘Unsinkable’ gives signs of hope, yet it comes with connotations of the Titanic, and that gives it a sense of something bad happening or something ending. The metaphor of the boat as the thoughts of the man helped make it a prose poem, not just prose.

Nadia Morris said...

Personally, I feel this poem is effective as the use of fragments and short sentences in the opening suggest accelerated pace, as well as a staccato rhythm - the repetition of ‘and’ lending it a breathless quality, like a child telling a story. This creates a sense of immediacy and urgency, instantly pulling the reader in. Also, imagery is incongruous, and often ironic – a starving child holding a diamond; the ‘Unsinkable’, sunk; the oxymoronic ‘quiet mob’ – all throw the reader off-balance, imply unreality. Finally, sibilance slows and softens the end of the piece, reinforcing the feeling that, like the poet’s father, we are drifting into a dream.

Anonymous said...

Laura and Nadia are quite astute in pointing out that, first and foremost you notice a unique and satisfying sense of rhythm created by Kassischke’s use of sentence length. The combination of the staccato beat and the contrasting longer beats that follow add to the lyricism of this prose and break line convention; making it a successful prose poem. This technique evokes stronger imagery then perhaps more traditional prose as it provides signposts to what symbolic imagery is important to focus on, for instance the reoccurring motif of the ‘unsinkable’ boat. Using this phrase is another successful device employed by Kassischke. The imagery in the first half of the poem evokes an urban feel of contemporary disturbances; the mob in the vacant lot, the Alzheimers, diamond and warm corridor. These are the issues she wishes to draw our attention to, so she juxtaposes them nicely with the second half of the poem, using the symbolism of boats and water, motifs we are comfortable with in poetry, to help ground and steer our emotional reaction.

-Arika Crotty