A poet who sees love and fear as intertwined

Kasey Jueds’ poem “To Swim” is filled with carefree, summertime childhood images: climbing trees, riding bikes, diving into blue water. But there is an undercurrent of danger that accompanies all of those activities.

As a child in Florida, Jueds learned to swim because her mother feared the water “as so many places a child could drown.” But Jueds fell in love. To her, the water seemed “blue more blue and the quiet more quiet.”

“It puts me in such a different place emotionally, mentally and, of course, physically. It’s transformative,” said Jueds from her home in Pennsylvania. Still, the duality of love twined with fear has haunted her in many things in life.

“I think fear and love are so closely [linked] together, especially in our intimate relationships. My mother was frightened for me because she loved me. Sometimes I think it’s hard to separate those emotions because we all live in fear of losing intimacy.”

Jueds said she started writing poetry in her twenties. “I had a real falling in love experience with poetry. It was sudden and immediate and shocking. I really knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

In 2013, she published her first book titled “Keeper,” a collection of poems about childhood, memory, relationships and longing. Jued said it took nearly 10 years to assemble and then many more frustrating months as she sent the book to various publishers, only to be rejected. She said she was just about to give up when it was chosen by the University of Pittsburgh Press and awarded the Agnes Lynch Starret prize.

“I had this naive idea that once I got a book published, I would feel like a ‘real poet,’ that it would somehow validate me,” Jueds says with a laugh. “But it doesn’t feel like that. Every time I write a poem, I’m still starting from scratch.”

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Many of Jueds’ poems, like “To Swim,” are autobiographical. “But I hope they’re not strictly autobiographical. I love when there is mystery left for other readers and that they aren’t so pinned down to my life that there isn’t space for others.”

Jueds is currently at work on what she hopes will become a second published collection. And she says she’s very optimistic in general about the vibrant poetry that is being written these days.

“There’s a lot of talk that poetry doesn’t change things or that nobody reads poetry anymore. But I don’t think that’s true. There are a lot of people putting poems into the world, really good poems. And I think there’s a lot to love and to learn from them.”

To Swim

Dear water, I loved you best
back then– my upside-down
house, kinder than sidewalks
or too-high branches, the bent red bike
that tipped me to the street.
Blue more blue and the quiet
more quiet, where I could be
the anhingas I’d seen, floating and diving,
there & gone & there,
swift as fists or Sunday school angels
parting the clouds of heaven.
I learned because my mother was afraid,
knew canals and pools, the eager sea
as so many places a child
could drown. I learned
because she loved me, and I fell
like Alice into somewhere else,
my feet leaving tiles or a motorboat’s side
to ride on almost nothing. Because she was
afraid I called myself
a bird, a fish, and because
she loved me I tried
to be a boat, and grew myself
to fear and love until they
became like children, mine, twins
who looked so much alike
I could hardly tell them apart
or ever hold them close enough.

From “Keeper” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013)

Born in Coral Gables, Florida, 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.