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A Biography of Dorothea Lasky: Voice of a Woman

Hong Chung

Renee Santo

Kisla Rami

Malden High School AP Literature

Ryan Gallagher

15 February 2011

1. Brief Introduction

Kisla Rami

        Dorothea Lasky was born in St. Louis, Missouri on March 27, 1978.  Lasky has a playful personality that is often portrayed through her poetry as well.  Lasky has appeared on many informal shows on Youtube such as “BOO!” ““The BOO! Show with Dottie Lasky.”” and in “Tiny Tour (Living Room).” (“Dorothea Lasky, Living Room, Tiny Tour.”)  

Lasky’s main focus throughout her life has been the appreciation of the arts and she has continuously devoted her education and her time into incorporating the arts in “our educational system”.  After earning her BA in Classics and Psychology from “Washington University in her hometown of St. Louis” (“Dorothea Lasky” par. 1), Lasky completed an MFA in poetry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. When she moved to “Boston in 2004, she taught English at the New England Institute of Art in Brookline...” (par. 1) Lasky also taught painting and drawing at the Munroe Center for the Arts in Lexington, Massachusetts.” A well-educated woman, Lasky’s experience in HGSE’s Arts in Education program was “eye-opening” (par. 2) for her. During her studies, Lasky “took courses in children’s literature, museum education, media arts, and other subjects,” (par. 2) as well as continuing to work on her poetry. Dorothea Lasky has now moved on to the University of Pennsylvania where she is working to get her Doctorate degree in education. Lasky is mostly interested in the “intersection between creativity and innovation” (par. 3). She is helping to develop policies that will promote, support and nurture these two ideas in schools across the country.(par. 2).  

2. Poetics And The Feminine Persona

Hong Chung

  Lasky’s mesmerizing style of narration has reviewers commenting on the dark and “heavy sadness” that she manifests into the voice of the speaker. (Hildreth par. 1), which is the strong voice of a woman against the backdrop of a patriarchal society.

        Almost all of Dorothea Lasky’s poems entail two key components: a strong voice coupled with minimalist, yet powerful diction. Lasky blurs the distinction between the speaker and the poet, as Lasky thinks of both poet and speaker as one entity, “a part of the poet” (Lasky, personal communication, 23 Jan. 2011).

        Lasky has the  ability to transcend conventional writing ethics by creating an intense raw honesty, without the actual burden of the explicit experience. To Lasky, each poem is like “a performance”, and that it is important that the poet be like a “chameleon” to take on the roles of said characters and channel the similar “emotions” that all humans share. Poetry is similar to expressing the emotion in which the mind and body needs in complete rhythm and harmony. (Lasky, personal communication, 23 Jan. 2011).

       Interestingly enough, the voices of Lasky’s poems are all women: women who cheat, women who menstruate, women who hate, and women who love. Beyond the plethora of feminine personas occupying each poem, Lasky’s intention in incorporating the voice of the feminine fatale is to demonstrate the “role of women in society” (qtd. in Degnan par. 7). Driven by her intense admiration for Sylvia Plath and Bernadette Mayer, both of whom were female poets that broke traditional barriers of sex and poetic tradition (Hildreth, par. 5), Lasky has greatly molded her into the fascinating writer that she is today- unafraid and unapologetic.

        When faced with the scrutiny for depictions of sexually charged acts in her poetry, Lasky reveals her adoration for the immense feeling of “flat power” and “wild abandon” (Hildreth par. 12) of sex through candid words. Lasky’s poetic personas overturns whichever scrupulous pretensions traditional, female poets have been pressured to uphold; especially the docile and flowery style of writing that many female poets have maintained in the past and present. Lasky’s writing is forthright and unpretentious.

Perhaps it is interesting to point out that Lasky’s intention in creating more space “for women to express themselves” (Lasky, personal communication, 23 Jan. 2011) is completed justified. According to VIDA, which released 2010 statistics that still show an enormous gap of the roles of men and women in literature. This divergent gender gap demonstrates how almost every major publisher and literary magazine has shown, and continues to show, a greater preference towards men than women. There are more male writers, editors, publishers, and published male work than women. Thus, women are easily in the position of a disadvantaged literary and poetic voice (King). In a male-driven culture in which in language can be constantly scrutinized, Lasky’s own voice undoubtedly resonates beyond the pages of simple paper and ink.

Contrary to her brazen poetic persona, Lasky describes herself in Bookslut Interview as being rather “girly” with a coquettish demeanor. Indulging in usage of the word “beautiful” and confessing to an adoration for the color pink (Hildreth, par. 3). And while Lasky occupies a coyer demeanor outside of her poetry, her ability to capture and command attention from readers and critics earns her to be a reputable poetic figure in these times. Dorothea Lasky intends to use her stance as a poet “to exert her power as woman”  creating a space for “women to more freely express” themselves, for their voices to be heard. (Lasky, personal communication, 23 Jan. 2011).

3. Influences

Renee Santo

Though they may seem to be, Lasky’s poems are not “exactly personal” (Lasky, personal communication, 23 Jan. 2011), although some of the things she writes about in her poems are things that have happened to her. The ability to breed a multitude of meanings is a skill that Lasky has inhabited by becoming so familiar with the techniques of Sylvia Plath, Bernadette Mayer, Kanye West and Notorious B.I.G. “The best poems can be read in an infinite amount of ways by an infinite amount of people” (Lasky, personal communication, 23 Jan. 2011).

Sylvia Plath is an American writer who is best known for her personal imagery and intense focus in her poems and is one of Lasky’s favorite poets and greatest influences because of the way she harnesses such power and puts it into the form of a poem. Lasky came to love Plath strictly in terms of poetry. She does not pay too much attention to Plath in terms of her being an American woman and the pressures Plath felt living in the 1950’s (Degnan par. 6). Though a strong influence, Plath succumbed to the role of the household wife and to what she felt as though she was able to do. Lasky lives above and beyond the ideal lifestyle of a woman in the 1950’s and her poetry reflects it (par. 6).

          Though Lasky could never imagine limiting herself to the role of the American wife in the 1950’s, she and Plath are similar because they both address the theme of feminism. Though Plath has had a large influence on Lasky’s poems, later female poets have given her the liberty to express herself through her work more than Plath has. An example of these later female poets is Bernadette Mayer (par. 7).

          Bernadette Mayer was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1945. Some of her most famous collections of poetry are Midwinter Day (1982, 1999), A Bernadette Mayer Reader (1992), The Desire of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (1994), Another Smashed Pinecone (1998), and Poetry State Forest (2008). Aside from her writing, Mayer has worked as a teacher and an editor (“Bernadette Mayer: Biography.” par. 1). Lasky is following in Mayer’s footsteps as she co-edits the Katalanché Press (“Dorothea Lasky, Living Room, Tiny Tour.  1:08) and has received her Masters in Education in Arts and Education from Harvard University. Lasky claims that Mayer has given her the freedom that Plath hasn’t. Plath stuck to society’s limitations and that has overall limited her ability to write various works (Degnan par. 7).

Lasky also gets some inspiration from other art forms, like rap and hip-hop. According to Lasky, hip-hop and poetry are similar in that the both tell stories about heartbreak and other strong feelings. Lasky once stated, “there are various way that hip-hop can gesture towards that. Either by saying ‘I’m The Best’ in every way possible, but also being able to do something that the listener cannot by creating syntactical structures that are danceable or get stuck in the listener’s head” (Desert Island Disks: Dorothea Lasky.  par.  2). The means by which hip-hop achieves its power is something that Lasky wants to emulate.

Kanye West is one of Lasky’s favorite rappers, even though she claims he sings more than raps. West’s sadness uplifts Lasky and connects her to her poetry. In fact, Lasky once commented on West’s 808s & Heartbreak mentioning that “this CD is sad, yes, it’s about heartache. I can imagine listening to it and crying at dusk on [an] island, as streams of purple light would fall on my broken body” (Desert Island Disks: Dorothea Lasky.  par.  2). Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie) is another one of Lasky’s favorite rappers because she finds the comparisons between him and Catullus, an Ancient Roman poet, extremely intriguing. The ways in which Catullus deals with pain and power connects to the ways in which Notorious B.I.G. does (Desert Island Disks: Dorothea Lasky.  par.  3).  Roman literature and poetry is powerful in a militaristic way, owning the reader and making the reader understand that the writer is the boss.  Hip-hop is a “kind of music that is in the consciousness of people today--a consciousness of vast power differences, pain, aggression, and beauty that deals intimately with language” (Degnan par. 2).

            Other favorite writers, such as Eileen Myles, Dodie Bellamy, and Lydia Davis, “have taught [her] a lot about how to combine storytelling and poetry and these writers' work (and many many others) have helped [her] form [her] style...” (Lasky, personal communication, 23 Jan. 2011).  Lasky provides space for emotions in poems, and “it would make [her] so happy if [she] also could help younger female poets have more space to express themselves” (Lasky, personal communication, 23 Jan. 2011).


Works Cited

"Awe." Rev. of Awe, Publishers Weekly 254.33 (2007): 50. General Reference Center Gold. Web. 17 Jan.    2011.

“Bernadette Mayer: Biography.” Poetry Foundation. Web. 12 Feb 2011.

Desert Island Disks: Dorothea Lasky. Poetry Society. 4 Jan 2011.

Degnan, Luke. “Interview with Dorothea Lasky.” Bomblog. 5 Mar 2010. Web. 6 Jan 2011.

“Dorothea Lasky.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. 5 Apr 2010. Web. 7 Jan 2011.

Dorothea Lasky, Living Room, Tiny Tour.YouTube 5 Oct 2007. Web. 8 Jan 2010

Hildreth, Kate. Interview with Dorothea Lasky. “An Interview with Dorothea Lasky”. Bookslut. Sep 2010. Web. 13 Jan 2011.

Klein, Ish. Interview with Dorothea Lasky. “The BOO! Show with Dottie Lasky.”  Youtube.  8 May 2008.  Web. 15 Jan 2011.

King, Amy. “The Count 2010.” VIDA. 2 Feb 2011. Web. 12 Feb 2011.

Lasky, Dorothea. Awe. Seattle: Wave Books, 2007.  Print.

Lasky, Dorothea. “Interview Questions.” E-mail to Hong Chung, Renee Santo, Kisla Rami. 23 Jan 2011.

Project Zero.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. 2010. Web. 30 Jan 2011.

Students- Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum.”  Graduate School of Education: PennGSE.  10  Jan 2011.   

Sylvia Plath Biography.” Creative Commons. Web. 30 Jan 2011.

Image citations:

1. "Untitled photograph of Dorothea Lasky." Photograph. East Village Howler. 16 Sept. 2010. Web. 20 Feb 2011.