Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: The Vaudeville Horse

Kaitlin Martin
Elizabeth Kerlikowske
Elizabeth Kerlikowske

When you read a poem or a bit of prose by Elizabeth Kerlikowske, there’s no mistaking her “voice.” It’s like no other. The former president of Friends of Poetry and the Poetry Society of Michigan has a new collection called The Vaudeville Horse. These poems, or “acts,” as Kerlikowske calls them, are filled with surreal images and objects: talking houses tied up with gaudy bows, arguing periodic tables that lack table manners, angels folding origami airplanes, and skirts stitched with razor wire.

A conversation with Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Kerlikowske talks about how she developed that unique voice in her work, and why she gives voice to inanimate objects: “I read a lot, I mean a lot, when I was younger. And I have always told stories to myself about things and inanimate objects that speak to me anyway. This is how I think. I think we all have a certain maybe soul, and I think a toaster can have a soul.”

Elizabeth Kerlikowske-The Vaudeville Horse web cover.png
Courtesy of the author
Elizabeth Kerlikowske
The cover of "The Vaudeville Horse"

Kerlikowske recalls a moment during her school years when a teacher, upon reading her work, recommended that she see a psychiatrist.

“I was disappointed, and I also considered it high praise,” she says. “I think it was a really seminal moment, because I thought, ‘I don’t really care if he likes it or not; I think I did a good job on it.’”

Describing The Vaudeville Horse, Kerlikowske explains, “I was raised by my grandparents, so vaudeville is something I am extremely familiar with because they talked about it all the time. This book, unlike some books, is not thematically unified. Each separate piece is like a little act. And because many of the pieces are dialogues or they have several people talking, they are like little acts, so I thought of a vaudeville-like presentation.”

Elizabeth Kerlikowske is the author of many chapbooks, including Last Hula and Rib, and the full-length books The Shape of Dad and Dominant Hand, as well as Art Speaks, an ekphrastic book with painter Mary Hatch. She earned her PhD from Western Michigan University. Kerlikowske was awarded the Kalamazoo Community Medal for the Arts in 2017 for her work with Friends of Poetry and the Poetry Society of Michigan. Kerlikowske will read from her work at the Parchment Community Library on Monday, September 26, at 6:30 p.m. She will also be reading at the Zhang Legacy Collections Center on Tuesday, October 4, at 7 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.

Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.