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Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interviews
Kasey Jueds
Race Track, Hialeah, FL

I slipped my arms into a dress of fog
and the whole unbroken summer
opened to let me in: those mornings
my mother drove back streets
so we could see them: before heat
and crowds and bets
when clouds leaned close
but didn't speak, we leaned
on railings to watch the horses practice,
orbiting the track's green center,
its far-off oval of flamingos & palms
like the place on paper
where, years later, I'd set
my compass tip, careful
to make my circles concentric,
meaning they shared a heart.
Horses' hearts are huge,
their legs impossibly skinny.
At home I traced their shapes
from books, pressed so hard
my pencil left a moat around each photo,
a hollow that held them safe.
I trusted tile roofs and Banyan roots
dropping from each branch,
like the rope of the tire swing
that left me dizzy, spinning
between dirt and sky. All around, my city
spiralled out, coils of clay
widening a bowl to hold
the impossible things I was learning
to believe--how roots
could grow in air, or two lines
reach endlessly
and never touch. Even after
the horses left for other tracks,
swaying in the dark of trucks
with the highway's white line
licking always ahead, ticking
like August under my skin,
I curled in my swing, looped
my pencil around withers, pastern,
hooves, I leaned back
until my hair swept ground,
until the ground was sky,
asking roots and leaves,
our house, the horses, asking
all of it to remember me.


The Missing Women

The ones on flyers pinned outside
the pool, papers curling in the chlorinated damp

where I'd wait, after practice,
for my mother, wait to be driven

away. The ones I'd study
over and over--names and faces and last seen

wearing, the places they'd disappeared
from. Days my mother came late I couldn't

stop staring, as if by looking hard
their stories would unlock: blue shirt,

bus stop, 1972: I carried them home
then back to the pool, up and down

my narrow lane, the water clear all the way
to the bottom, the slap and reach

of arms and hands--something missing
in me, or something I missed,

as every fall I missed the first leaves
turning, so when I finally remembered

they'd already started letting go,
their vanishing tangling the air.

That season I swam until my fingers puckered,
my still-damp hair, in the parking lot after, stiffened

to clots of ice. I swam and swam and my body
stayed solid, not like the water I knew

it contained. In school we learned how much
of us is liquid, how stories have
a beginning, middle, and an end. I read
of women who turned

to seals in the sea, dove deeper than I could
and came back safe, and I kicked,

turned, pushed away
from the wall, counting laps while the women

knocked inside my head, their weight
buoying me, acolyte of cold,

of split times, lane lines, the secret
history of water. How anyone could slip

from her story like that!--a shape
in paper cut cleanly away. Behind

my shape water sealed
itself shut, somehow I was swimming

into the next day, the next,
into love that seemed sometimes

a desire to be gone, whittled to the thinnest
stem of bone--as those women

might have desired, or not
desired, the ones so lost

by now they must be almost home.



Summer dusks I placed pennies on the tracks
                      and waited in bed
                                                       to hear the night
                      train’s whistle, waited
                                 for light so I could run
and lift them: flattened,
                                                                   worn by weight
                                 to a faceless shine.
                    One road in that town
and it ended in woods, maple and pine pressed close
                                 to keep their secrets
                                                       safe, tossing them up
                                 only once or twice
in the blue bathing suit
            abandoned by the path, in snakeskin. Think skin

you can see through, soft metal, think a lake
                                                       so cold
          that from the boat your trailing hands
                               turn pure bone.

         When someone I loved gave me pennies
he’d found, lifted for luck
         from sidewalks and floors, I hid them in pockets
                   and they glowed
where I could not see, rubbed together
                                                       like grapes in a vat
         where they ferment, sluice of skin
                               and juice into wine.  For years

          I wished on anything I could find:
                               pennies tossed into ponds and pools,
                     blood from a cut finger
                                                                tasting of copper.
          I held snakeskin, sloughed-off
                               skin of the birch tree
                     white in woods; I heard the night train,
                                felt walls shudder: something shakes
                                          the rooms inside, something
                     moves the blood
                                                      that lifts the hand, throws the coin
                     to make the wish, as grapes
           lose their skins in the dark
                              and in the dark the pennies wait,
                                        dazzled, dazed,
                    utterly changed
                              by the train I never saw.


                -from Keeper


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interviews

In "Race Track, Hialeah, FL," much of the speaker’s world is personified: “the whole unbroken summer” that “opened to let me in,” the “clouds leaned close but didn't speak,” those “two lines [that] reach endlessly and never touch,” and those final wonderful lines in which the speaker asks her world to remember her:


            …I leaned back

until my hair swept ground,

until the ground was sky,

asking roots and leaves,

our house, the horses, asking

all of it to remember me.


Take a moment to look around you. What do you see and hear and touch and taste and feel? Record these impressions in a list, maybe twenty or so sensations deep. Then pick one to personify, to give human qualities, and explore how that sensation would see the world. How, for example, might the steam rising from your latte view your barista? How would, say, the bellow of a fog horn regard the fog itself? Compose a 1-2 page poem of short lines (no more than 3-4 feet) in the voice of that sensation OR describe your surrundings in your voice that ytilizes five or more impressions/sensations (as Jueds does here) from the list. And, as always, have fun!


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interviews

Born in Coral Gables, FL, Kasey Jueds holds degrees from Harvard, Stanford, and Sarah Lawrence College. Her first collection of poems, Keeper, won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2013. Her work has appeared in journals including The American Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, 5AM, Women's Review of Books, Salamander, and Manhattan Review. She has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Soapstone, and the Ucross Foundation. She works in educational research and lives in Philadelphia.


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interviews

A Review of Kasey Jueds Keeper by Ann Fisher-Wirth, first published at Valparaiso Poetry Review 

Kasey Jueds’s prize-winning first book of poems, Keeper, is a beautiful collection of meditations on keeping and its opposite, whether that be losing or relinquishing. Throughout the book she explores the hunger to hold on to the objects, experiences, memories that shape and define our passage through the world; and the very different hunger to move into the dark, into boundlessness and emptiness. The two desires seem at first to be mutually opposed. As it turns out, of course, they cannot be separated, for to move through time accruing the experiences and memories that create one’s identity necessitates also a constant process of loss as all things pass into memory or oblivion. And to gain the depth of feeling, the wisdom, to which Keats refers when he calls the world a place of Soul-making necessitates opening the heart to embrace that loss. This is the terrain of Jueds’s imagination. Her poems are deceptively accessible. She writes about animals, places, weather, personal experience, firmly grounded in the actual. Yet one gradually becomes aware of an undertow, a spirituality that does not call attention to itself at first, but that gathers power upon rereading. She knows, as the poet Paul Eluard said, “There is another world and it is in this one.” She is willing to inhabit loss, to inhabit loneliness, so that she may “learn the words again / slowly. Knowing each thing / as new” (“December Underneath” 37).

     A giddy hunger for the past, “to hold it all” (53-54), is expressed in “Race Track, Hialeah, FL.” An evocation of girlhood with its passion for horses, the poem ends by describing the child swinging, leaning back “until my hair swept ground,” 

     Asking roots and leaves,

     our house, the horses, asking

     all of it to remember me. (8-9)

The title poem, “Keeper,” also tackles this hunger. “Today I’m back / in the city where I lived,” it begins,


      what the city keeps, what

      of all the muchness

      I’ve called mine.

      Skin cells sloughed off,

      invisible, mixing

      with exhaust and dust. . . .

     Other offerings, other evidences of the past presence of the self, include various bits of the body’s passage through time: “Hair for a bird’s house,” “breath,” “Blood each month / and sometimes more. . . .” But is the self  present, or absent, if it endures in dispersed molecules? At the level of substances, all things are to some degree interconnected, and also at the level of emotions, of “Love that returned to me and love / that didn’t, spiraling endlessly / somewhere else….” Still, we experience ourselves as discrete entities bound in time, and the evocation of all these cells, molecules, emotions, triggers the memory of longing,

      the purest thing

      I knew, always reaching

      for something without heft

      or breath that still, I swear,

      moves and breathes

      in, around, between

      each fog-bound house—

      where everything is something

      I tried to keep, and

      couldn’t, and can’t,

      and won’t, and won’t

      stop trying. . . . (53-54)

     Predominantly, Keeping explores the more mysterious and melancholy reaches of the self in its dance with vanishing. One especially strong poem, “Girl in the Backseat, Wisconsin Winter,” describes a girl riding through countryside in the back seat of her parents’ car. Night comes on as she studies “the habits of dusk,” watching the farm lights “stutter on,” and aligning her breath with the passing phone poles, “one quick inhale each time / they pass.” The alignment of her breathing seems to become a conduit to meditation, for what’s extraordinary about this poem is the way it opens out quietly beyond the known self into a sense of its participation with all things. The process is subtle, expressed in terms of (impossible?) possibility rather than realization. Riding through the dark, the girl knows that, though her breath is “a solid thing,” “she’s liquid still” like the melt that drips from icicles. She knows too that she could hear “the voices [the phone poles] carry flooding the wires” if only

      she stretched into this dark that’s different

           from sleep, hollowed as birds’ bones,

      that emptiness at the center that lets them fly. (19)

     A surrender of the self into darkness pervades also “The Bat,” the book’s opening poem. Set off in a section by itself, it is obviously thematically important to the book as a whole. In it, the vividly realized animal also represents a state of soul. “First dark,” Jueds writes,

      then more dark

      smoothed down over it.


     First sleep, then eyes

      open to the ceiling

      where something circles. For a moment

      you can’t name it. And for a moment


      you’re not afraid. (1)

     This is an opening into sacred space, the poem goes on to say, like the charged emptiness between the leaning bodies of “Blake’s angels,” who “balanced / by touching only the tips of their wings”—a space which is as natural yet as mysterious as 

      the one just after rain begins, when rain

          isn’t rain, but the smell

       of dust lifted, something silent and clean. (1)

     One of the strengths of Kasey Jueds’s work, as we see in “The Bat,” is the way in which she always grounds her sense of mystery in the ordinary. What could be more ordinary, for instance, than road kill? “I pass him at the bottom of the hill,” Jueds writes in “Lost Things,” another poem about driving—a dead raccoon lying in Queen Anne’s lace, “his face pressed between the precise stars / of his paws.” She tells us that to see road kill is “not uncommon here” because the trees come right to the dirt road’s edge. She has seen dead squirrels, a coyote, many deer, and a black hound dog, all of them “any one of a hundred lost things— / a piece of tire, a child’s tattered coat.” So far, perfectly ordinary, though upon a second look, the coat might give us pause. Then, in the poem’s final stanza, this litany of losses begins to become—though subtly—eerie. At first “the road looks so clear, / a simple rope tying town to town.” She “bumps out onto the highway”—the verb a natural choice for turning from a dirt road onto a paved one, but also precisely accurate for running over an animal—and keeps going “past the gas station, the tidy church” (27). Still, perfectly ordinary. Then she passes more Queen Anne’s lace, that looks “like plates of stars” (28), and of course we think of the dead raccoon. Emily Dickinson writes, 

      Because I could not stop for Death—

      He kindly stopped for me—

and though here the modern woman is the driver, she too travels on a journey into which the awareness of death keep seeping. The road kill deaths are not discrete; time itself is a journey into death, even though we don’t usually let ourselves know it. This wisdom is carried in the image: those flowers like paws, those

      tiny blooms

      just beginning to darken

      at the edges, though I can’t see that

      from where I am now. (28)

     Three eloquent poems about the Selkie Wife are braided into the second half of the book, beautifully summarizing Jueds’s themes of keeping and relinquishing. These persona poems grow from the Irish, Scottish, and Faroese myths of the selkies, creatures who live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to live on land. Furthermore, “if a man steals a female selkie's skin she is in his power and is forced to become his wife. Female selkies are said to make excellent wives, but because their true home is the sea, they will often be seen gazing longingly at the ocean. If she finds her skin she will immediately return to her true home, and sometimes to her selkie husband, in the sea” (Wikipedia, Selkie).

     In the first poem, “The Selkie Wife,” the woman is living on land. “Nights,” Jueds writes, “she lies down / in her body’s longing.” But what is this longing: is it eros in the form of sexual passion for her beloved, or is it thanatos in the form of a hunger for the sea? We cannot tell, and the poem rests in this ambivalence. Almost without her knowing it, the Selkie Wife’s hands “continue to re-knot” the ropes that hold her even as the sea daily widens the gaps, “the open spaces / through which it loves to pour” (39). The poem that follows “The Selkie Wife” is called “The Missing Women,” and it describes the poet’s youthful fixation on pictures of missing women pinned outside the neighborhood pool: her dread yet fascination as a member of the swim team with “women who turned // to seals in the sea” (41), or women on land who are

     whittled to the thinnest 

     stem of bone—as those women


     might have desired, or not

     desired, the ones so lost


     by now they must be almost home (42).

     Following this is “The Selkie from Shore,” which grounds itself in earthly passion, in a longing not for God but for “bees, their pulse and tremble / in flowers slackening toward summer’s end….” “Not God,” the poet writes, not “sky / streaming light, cathedrals,” for those incarnate “a wish / I am not big enough to hold.” Instead, here is a desire to rest in the plenteous natural world, with just a “slightest tremor of the air” such as bees cause, that hints perhaps at the presence of the sacred, “a humming / that has no need of me” (43).

     And finally, “The Selkie Returns to the Sea.” Having returned to the sea, the Selkie Wife has learned that her longing has no end. At loose in the infinite, she searches “in its swells / for anything to pin me down,” just as, pinned down, she longed for the sea. The beauty, the poetry, lie in the tension and fluctuations—in the dream of the sea and the dream of land, of openness and limits, loss or relinquishment, keeping or finding. I’ll close with the final stanza of this tender and eloquent poem. “On land,” the Selkie Wife tells us,

      my kitchen harbored smallness: sweet

      oat cakes, my children’s silky heads. When I

      return to them next spring, on the flood tide’s

      seventh day, I’ll touch my mouth

      to the house’s wall, a baby learning the world

      with her tongue—stone and

      salt, the garden leaning into bloom,

      my sealskin just another dying I’ve put on.

     For example, the litany of negations in “December Underneath”—“I am not waiting. . . . I am not waiting. . . . I am not holding my breath. . . . I am not holding anything” (37) deepens in resonance with each rereading until it seems to echo the great passage in Four Quartets in which Eliot writes,

     I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

      For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

      For love would be love of the wrong thing;  


     I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you

     Which shall be the darkness of God. (“East Coker”)


     Churches are best for prayer that have least light.


Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interviews

An Interview wih Kasey Jueds by Joanne Merriam, first published as part of Intermitent Visitors at joannemerriam.com

Joanne Merriam: What is your writing process?

Kasey Jueds: For such a long time, it’s been the same, or at least very similar. I write meandering sorts of notes in longhand, in my journal, and write them over and over again until (maybe) lines start to emerge, music, something that feels like a poem. And then I write that over and over again, sifting and revising and moving things around. I try to keep whatever it is (I don’t even call things “poems” until I’ve worked with them for ages) open for as long as possible—open in the sense of being still malleable and pliable and able to be entered. I don’t type things up until I start to have a stronger sense of the poem being, in some essential way, the way it wants to be. (I’m weirdly superstitious about the typing part—once I do that, the poem starts to feel more fixed!) And once I’ve put a poem into a word doc I still type it over and over, although at that stage I’m mostly fiddling at the level of words and line breaks and not making big radical changes.

That process (long drawn-out, rather serious) has taught me so much, and it’s how I’ve worked ever since I’ve started to make poems. But now that the book is done, and almost published, I’m realizing I would love to experience more play in my process of writing. I don’t want to abandon that older, more familiar (yet still always strange and new and surprising) way of making; most of the poems that feel most alive to me have involved time and patience and a certain amount of mental/emotional pressure. And at the same time, I know I can be way, way too serious. I can press so hard I squeeze the life out of poems. I would love to open the door to more light-heartedness, more joy (because there is joy in writing as well as tremendous anxiety and fear and discouragement and all the rest). More play. I was recently so moved by this interview with Sarah Arvio: her process sounds so intuitive, so open and trusting. If I could shift even a little bit in that direction, I would be very happy.

Oh, and since I love hearing this sort of detail from other writers, I write with a fountain pen (I have two cheap ones and a more expensive version, and they—and the bottles of gorgeous ink—are among my favorite possessions), and in a notebook (Moleskines are beautiful but I can’t use them because their paper doesn’t work with fountain pen ink… so I have a variety of other types, some with graph-paper-like pages and some with lines and some blank), and then on a MacBook Pro (which I love very dearly, as well).

I also write aided by many cups of tea.

JM: Can you say a little bit about the genesis of your most recent book?

KJ: My most recent book is my only book… and I think I wrote it in a very old-fashioned way. I worked on it for a long time (ten years? maybe longer—it’s hard to say exactly when it started to be a “book” or at least a book-in-progress). I tried to look at it periodically as a whole, and periodically I took out old poems that didn’t seem to be working any more, and added newer ones. I shifted poems around (though the first and last poems have been where they are for a long time). I looked at images and how the images in one poem seemed to speak to those in the poem that followed, and how each poem looks on the page, the form it takes, and how that might speak to the shape of the next poem. I didn’t have any sort of conscious idea or theme around which I was trying to shape a manuscript. So many of the books I love and admire are made that way: they seem to have grown up organically, with a mixture of conscious and unconscious work, around a particular something: a topic, a subject. They feel of-one-piece. But my book is much more hodge-podge (that’s largely what I meant by “old-fashioned”), which is why I have such a hard time describing what it’s about when people ask. But I need to get better about this! It’s kind when people ask, and it’s also a very normal sort of question. So I guess it’s about my obsessions, which are not especially unusual ones: intimacy and relationship (with people, yes, but also with animals, landscape, the natural world) and mystery and longing.

JM: What are your marketing and promotion habits?

KJ: I want to say I don’t have any, but that’s not true anymore! I have been trying very hard, very consciously, to develop these—because my natural tendency is to want to hide in my apartment and pretend nothing is happening, when it comes to things like promoting the book. But I have been lucky in having a very generous friend who is helping me with publicity. She’s encouraging and supportive and working with her has made me focus on this in a way that feels like it’s helping me to grow. She’s helping me find places to read, and I’m working on that myself, too. Another kind friend helped design a website for me. I use Twitter. I’m also lucky in that the publicity department at the University of Pittsburgh Press is amazing. It’s all important. I would never have found some of the books that are most dear to me (many of which are not published by big presses) if they hadn’t been publicized and promoted. And I’m so grateful for the presence of those books in my life. So: this matters. Definitely. 

JM: Which writers inspire you?

KJ: Emily Dickinson, George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Rilke.

Jane Hirshfield, Jane Kenyon, Linda Gregg.

They are all long-time companions, people whose work I go to again and again. But I’m also inspired by so many contemporary poets. One of my teachers in graduate school, Suzanne Gardinier, told us that there are times to read in a tightly focused way, to read favorite writers over and over. And then there are times to “cast your net widely,” to read anything and everything—and to read against the grain, read things you wouldn’t normally gravitate towards. When I am in that second, more expansive place, I can feel inspired by many, many writers, and it seems to me there is so much work out there to love. I am inspired by the fact that so many people are writing, when so much in our culture works against it.

I am inspired by my friends who write, who make art—by the beauty and the intelligence of their work, and by the fact of their working, their dedication and courage.

JM: Why do you write?

KJ: I love this question! And I think my answer is pretty unoriginal: on some level, I do feel that I write because I have to. I have been through periods of not-writing, for various reasons, and while not-writing is, in some ways, easier, it also makes me feel less alive. Making poems feels like making containers for the many feelings and experiences that, if it weren’t for the poem, would have nowhere to go, nowhere to be. All the emotions that are nameless and formless and messy and huge, that seem to ask for something to hold them, to give them a structure, a home. I think I need to make poems because I need to make homes for those things that would otherwise be homeless.

  Click here to for an interview with Jueds

Poems - Prompt - Bio - Review - Interviews

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