Julia Kasdorf, thankfully, collects poems in As Is, not as a project but has an array of well-wrought individual poems. Even so, the titles of poems offer a focus on subjects such as labor and laborers, daughter as self and parent, nature as awe-inspiring as well as a sphere damaged. These poems play out with a covert lyricism (turtle/mill/initial/shell; root splay/crayfish; Castle/mussels) that echoes throughout. After all, what captivates me most is how trauma can appear so mundane: dread of walking in a particular area, raising a child, the workers’ lot. Entering her poems is entering a door open for fervent discovery and calm.
As Is gathers everyday poems written over time and mostly at the poet’s home in the Ridge and Valley province of northern Appalachia. This work pays attention to the world as it is with curiosity, candor, and delight. Seeking connection with others and the earth and savoring the fine details of a messy life, these poems reckon with the demands of family, pandemic, aging, and loss even as they witness injustice, violence, environmental degradation, and climate crisis.
In As Is, Julia Spicher Kasdorf brings her generous, searching vision to the frayed beauty of spaces between the urban and the rural. Her poems bear witness to rough, hardscrabble places, the labor of those who live there, and histories on the verge of dissolving in a rapidly changing environment. These are poems of transition, formed by the friction of weeds pushing up against stone, the stubborn wildness of goats gnawing at fences, and the exertions of those who must reckon with the loss of cherished landscapes and roles. As the ground shifts, the poet draws our attention to the inimitable, shining, and vulnerable marvel of what is.
With deep humility and earned authority, Julia Kasdorf can enter an achingly transitory situation, a landscape we take for granted, and connect us to the arc of history. Her poems embrace embodiment and the moment, then take a step back and suggest our era, forces beyond psychology, forces too close to see. Kasdorf is an exemplary poet of witness. Her visceral lines never exhort, but they take full responsibility for everything they touch. They make no claim on transcendence, but they are on fire for redemption. As Is is extraordinary.
Julia Spicher Kasdorf is the author ofSleeping Preacher, Eve’s Striptease, Poetry in America, and Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields, a documentary project created in collaboration with photographer Steven Rubin. She has also published a collection of essays, The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life, and a biographical study, Fixing Tradition: Joseph W. Yoder, Amish American.