reviews

INTERIM MAGAZINE: A Magic Book Review

“Ladies and Gentlemen, just when you thought it was too late: ‘A Magic Book!’ This daring, debut collection artfully explores the history of The Davenport Brothers, the ‘Boys from Buffalo,’ who were key to the American Spiritualist movement prior to the Civil War. Hailed by believers as proof of Spirit phenomena, their act was descried by traditional religionists as deviltry and by critics as mere stage magic. In this powerful lyric meditation, Sasha Steensen weaves the brothers’ story with early American history and the illusion of power rooted in notions of Manifest Destiny. Guided by an ‘errrand,’ the pilgrim goes into the wildnerness, the magician conjures spirits…Does it matter that neither can be seen? Indeed, A Magic Book, is guided as much by language as by history, Steensen’s often hilarious word play turning deadly serious when her nameless pilgrim discovers the visibility rooted in invisibility, and the dark surface of exploration:

Errand #4

Sail (or sell or buy) as much of the shore as possible, or steal, preferably
steal. We were to become the biggest producers of steel in the world, the
biggest in a thousand senses. All of those grandfathers worked in that big
mirrored building to make sure I could have my metal, which brings me to errand #4:
Make sure we are in a position to mettle.

In the living lexicon of Steensen’s vision, things and actions are not separate; what the early explorers were able to steal from this country’s first inhabitants, paved the way for the steel that would become America’s first trademark. And those master illusionists, ‘those grandfathers’ working their magic in the ‘mirror(ed)’buildings of our country’s metropolis’ were certainly self-sacrificing, making our ‘metal’ so we could turn it to use, yes, be ‘in a position to mettle.’ While Gertrude Stein heard liberation in Tender Buttons, in the verbing of the noun and in her notion of the continuous present, Steensen, alive to her time, sees and hears the ultimately fallen result of use itself. Still, we are where we are, in part, because of those who came before us, and A Magic Book acknowledges the debt to generation, actual/and/linguistic that we owe. Innately Thoreauvian, Steensen also sees Nature’s involvement. Cuckoos all, we inhabit borrowed nests, choosing to acknowledge or deny that ‘we are a notion of changelings.’ A Magic Book is a profound achievement and important news for contemporary poetry.”

Claudia Keelan