Kathleen Ossip's poems occur in the charged space between journal entry, social history, philosophical treatise and dream: Do we want to understand poems, or do we want poems that understand us?



Kathleen Ossip, The Cold War, Sarabande Books, 2012.

"The Cold War, Kathleen Ossip's second collection of poetry, is a work of startling breadth and wit. From the powerful drama and formal boldness of "The Status Seekers" to the post 9/11 trauma of "Document:" to the various theories of criticism in "The Nervousness of Yvor Winters," Ossip takes up the crazed threads of modern experience and all its contradictions. Each poem, each new approach is an attempt to extract something concrete from an era not yet past—a truly unique thought, a new theme, a personal memory. Yet as the poet probes and wonders, she gradually reveals another narrative, built on strangled emotion and subdued lyricism. "We're sliding aren't we" she remarks. The Cold War is jagged and thought-provoking. It questions the origins and premises of contemporary American culture."

The history it weaves—that of the second half of the twentieth century, a history that put in place the entire ethos that led to its own dismantling—is incredibly timely. But the book is evocative of growing up in this country even now, with our equally funny and horrifying contradictions. Each time I've read it, I've found myself very moved by its fierce clarity and compassion.” —Susan Wheeler

"Kathleen Ossip's poems occur in the charged space between journal entry, social history, philosophical treatise and dream. These are borderless poems, poems of chaotic beauty. "I believe almost everything now," she affirms. The Cold War is a bracing delight." —Dominic Luxford

"Ossip's long-awaited second book is a surprising poetic powerhouse that interweaves the personal and the political in ways that are as aesthetically exciting as they are emotionally rich. The book opens with a jumpy ode on melancholy that takes off, as two of the best of these poems do, from a hefty quote from a weighty book (in this poem's case Karl Menninger's The Human Mind) and the words "In those days": "Melancholia, we cherished," writes Ossip, and, later, "The intellect's/ a pissy thing, a fortress." Here and elsewhere, Ossip deftly mixes linguistic registers in poems that blend aspects of confessional writing, social and literary criticism, and history. The book's centerpiece is the traumatized, post-9/11 "Document," a long series of sentences and fragments that attempt to manage an unshakable feeling of danger: "Put space between you and the attack. Oh fruity word!" Or the centerpiece might be the essay/ poetic sequence/ tribute called "The Nervousness of Yvor Winters," which takes off from Winters's life and work to finally ask the question, "Do we want to understand poems, or do we want poems that understand us?" The book gains other dimensions from further sequences and prose fables, such as "The Deer Path," in which "One deer sped by in a small, trucklike vehicle and shouted FUCK! at me through the open window in an unmistakably cruel way." Ossip is about to take the poetry world off guard with what is surely among the most various, powerful, and representative (of post-terror America) poetry collections of the past few years." - Publishers Weekly

"Ms. Ossip conjures delightful and unexpected muses in this socio-poetical exploration of post-World War II America, taking as her starting points Karl A. Menninger, who wrote “The Human Mind”; Vance Packard, author of “The Status Seekers”; and that scalawag of orgone energy, Wilhelm Reich. In this shrewd and ambitious work Ms. Ossip participates in a very old-fashioned sport, parsing the American mind through the filter of cold war paranoia. This is from “Document,” told in the voice of a military weapons expert:
Woke with a start at 3:00 and started to write a paper and felt like I was dying
and kept things in their proper perspective
since the media has been the most horrifying experience of my life.
For with predictions of the past two nights
I chemical, nuclear, biologically warfared on our turf.
There is nostalgia at play here too, allowing Ms. Ossip to romp and rollick. “The Status Seekers” opens:
In those days, we studied the difference between antenna
and aerial, commercial and ad, channel and station.
And in “The Cold War” she wistfully recalls, “TV offered its blue comfort./In those days, when you dialed the phone,/someone answered it.” - Dana Jennings

“But how is an individual built? On the theories of the past.” The poems of Kathleen Ossip’s stylistically wide-ranging second collection create their own context, manifest their own landscapes within which the dramas of language and identity unfold. The poet has an uncanny ability to convey what it actually feels like to be alive today, both as a personal “miniverse of feeling, sensation, causation,” and as a social, political, and historical being. Ossip is one of our foremost ethnographers of contemporary unreality. - The Believer


The Status Seekers


Many people are badly distressed, and scared, by the anxieties, inferiority feelings, and straining generated by this unending process of rating and status striving. The status seekers, as I use the term, are people who are continually straining to surround themselves with visible evidence of the superior rank they are claiming.
—Vance Packard,The Status Seekers (1959)


In those days, we studied the difference between antenna
and aerial, commercial and ad, channel and station.
Sometimes it was hard to figure out how to be sincere.


Many compensated by becoming compulsive talkers,
a few took long slow drinks of ice water on hot days,
and all the time Givenchy was going on, and we didn’t know it.


In place of the meadow grew a circle filled with squares.
The embossed wallpaper, badly in need of fixing,
banged against eternal furniture, a Dunbar chair. Distressed,


our hearts peeling, we could either plan it out , or we could do it.
In the magazine: a townhouse, designed; French vegetables,
uncanned. How to keep the deer from nibbling the

rhododendrons upstate. (There was an artichoke in that bud.)
I wanted to be a holy girl, to sigh as if swimming in God.
In all games, I would be the one in shreds,


or straining to hit the birdie over the net and blast Jamie’s head right off.
In God and the ways of knowing. We were in thrall to the deep
and meaningless, and with great hope launched a fervent—


Let’s consider what is real: Do clothes last forever,
either in substance or in style? Can all ambition be for
this life alone? We knew the Gibsons (man, woman,


girl, girl, boy) of the resigned eyebrows. Swarthiness/
despair/passivity/collar-dirt clouded them like flies.
We knew the Crawfords, blond-rose, fresh from the club
(who worried: why had a saga never bloomed for them?).
Both required countertops. And countertops being required,
several diverged. How nausceous, how $14.99.


It would be nice to have more money. Some abstract art
would be nice. In my maxi dress and corsage of violets,
I could hear things (in the larger sense):


Sweet peas, join me. Girls, pixie cuts, shifted, birdlike.
It began with the rock, the river and the tree.
We could not all be best, not in the smaller sense.

My thighs spread like feathers, that was one demerit.
My grandmother came from Naples; she had subtlety without finesse.
I pedaled home through a shallow puddle—it busted apart—got
lunch—then the staticky commercial—then the wrong-looking sneakers.




A. in May

Alfresco on a chairbed the woman confirms the natural.
Natural it is to be disgusted and hopeless.
Disgusted and hopeless at being related to her,
Relating to her is what keeps me alive.
Even the unfair trees and the lawn are alive.
Alive with beating life she flies in the face of
Five w’s: what when where why why?
On the chairbed she is breaking out of the sun and the lawn.
Really, out of the sun and the lawn and the trees and me. I am
Still studying, aren’t you? Whether we accept
These processes or are repulsed by them, we are still studying,
Each of us one cell in a universe of process.
Realm of the universe, hers, and realm of the bourgeois dah-dah-dah.
On the chairbed, in the sun, she’s turning yellow.
She’s part of the carbon cycle. I toe several pits on the lawn.
She’s been eating cherries and has dropped pits on the lawn.
It’s natural to have lost my breath and found several
Pits on the lawn.


Kathleen Ossip, The Search Engine, Copper Canyon Press, 2002.


"Beginning in a high-rise hotel and ending with a quasi-mythic suburban idyll, The Search Engine scans a dissonant, saturated environment. Kathleen Ossip’s poetry is word-rich and music-lush, lively, witty, and sharp. She deftly records the immediacies of life, interior and exterior, domestic and worldly, here and now."

"The poetry of nerves… is self-evidently, truly American, and this poet is a fine recorder of its devastating little complexities… The eye is restless and relentless, a detail-devourer, a silent machine that has developed, like a diary, a hunger for subtleties… At her acutest she is irresistible." - Derek Walcott, from the Introduction

"An outstanding debut—zesty, strange, funny, moving. First book to wholly change the way I think about poetry in several years." - Roddy Lumsden

"Formal agility plays a fast game of tag with modern urban women's issues in The Search Engine, the slippery and absolutely contemporary debut from Kathleen Ossip, which slips non sequiturs and famous names (from Woody Allen to the Waldorf) into its sonnets, syllabics, macaronics, and other high-spirited accomplishments…" - Publishers Weekly

"Ossip produces poem after poem that showcase a robust energy and freneticism; what’s all the more impressive is, that for all of their sheer ravenousness and ranginess, the poems that populate this book are incredibly pressurized and precise…She makes poetry that enhances our perceptual ability by producing honed moments of apprehension. The word that occurs to me is virtuoso…We are with the speaker and we recognize the speaker’s world as our own, even if we blush a little for not having noticed it this fearfully and lovingly before. We are the richer for The Search Engine, a wonderful first book from a promising, powerful new poet." - Marc McKee

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