This past Thursday, I attended Literati Bookstore’s event, “SWEETLAND WORD SQUARED: WRITER TO WRITER, WITH LAURA KASISCHKE.” The event was a live interview of Laura Kasischke, a well-published author of both novels and poetry. She is also a professor of English here at the University, which is why she participated in this interview series. Here are some thoughts I had and things I took note of during the event:
- During the introduction, the interviewer read a VERY long list of her achievements. Ms. Kasischke is clearly very successful, and her achievements are truly impressive (especially for a new writer who has yet to publish anything of note!). Nevertheless, she seemed/looked/sounded very nervous during this section. I found myself thinking that she should be more confident in the face of such success. Maybe she is just uncomfortable with the formal recognition?
- Ms. Kasischke on powering through: “I write whether I have writer’s block or not.”
- As part of the interview, Ms. Kasischke read aloud from her forthcoming novel. In it, she describes (at GREAT length) a boy drowning to death – but you don’t realize until very late into it. I found her ability to catch the reader by surprise very remarkable. Her command of descriptive language is also very impressive. Furthermore, she writes with great rhythm – her words flow well and move forward forcefully. When she stopped reading, I wanted to ask her to keep going.
- By the time she finished reading, she settled in and seemed much more comfortable than at the beginning. Maybe talking about her work rather than her awards put her at ease?
- From listening to her speak, I gathered that she seems to think the idea of having a “writing ritual” is silly – she thinks of it as something she does, not something “structured” or “with method.” Following from this, she noted that the themes of her writing come from her life and from within. She emphasized that her themes are not picked out in advance. I think that her skepticism for a writing process is interesting, especially since she is a teacher of writing. This seems contradictory.
- When asked what her pre-occupations are: “Sex and death.” The audience laughed. She asked if anyone really thinks about anything else. Then she added that she also thinks about motherhood and religion and the “physical life” and language.
- She reads from “Mrs. Dalloway” when she wants to be inspired.
- Next she read a few of her poems. Her poems are just as engaging and descriptive as her prose. One of the poems she read felt extremely personal – it was weird hearing it from her, since she knew what it is about while she read it, but the rest of us did not.
- She commented that a big part of her creative process is reflecting on the ways that what’s happening in her life while she is writing influences what come out.
- She made a big deal about “The Habit of Writing” – she was really motivated to express how important it is to write every day, or at least on a regular basis, in order to stay in the habit.
- Her thoughts on teaching: Everything is a drag anyway – teaching writing is as close as it gets to being a full-time writer and also having a job.
- Other thoughts on writing: “It’s not always going to be fun.” “Learn what you’re obsessed with.” “It will distract you from the things that make you anxious and depressed by making you anxious and depressed.”
- On getting a good poem out of breaking her ankle: “Other people break their ankle and they get nothing from it.”
- She describes writing with the goal of publication as “soul-corrupting” – She says it doesn’t work. She is adamant that it’s better to just write and see if it gets published.
On the whole, I found Ms. Kasischke to be very interesting and inspiring. Her thoughts on writing were dense and well-articulated, and pushed me to think more about my own writing experience. At the end of the event I bought her book, “The Raising.” Then I went home and read the first seventeen chapters. I highly recommend it.