The Method by Sasha Steensen
(Fence Books, 2008)
According to the cover of the book, “The Method is a manuscript of theorems and proofs written and diagrammed by the mathematician Archimedes in Syracuse around 250 bc. The Method is a book of poems by Sasha Steensen. The former is a text that has survived, at least in parts, through a series of processes that includes palimpsesting, thievery, obscurantism, acquisition, and conservation. The latter text takes the former and its history, which has been invisible, overwritten, and requisitioned for use value, as a jumping-off place for …”
just what, exactly?
In these poems, The Method (whose?) is The Archimedes Palimpsest, physical object, text, human … Frankenstein’s monster … a foetus …
For me, “The Future of an Illusion” is the central poem of this book. Maybe because, among other things, it begins “Perhaps I could use my own words just this once, and make Method mouth what I desire.” It does and doesn’t happen, to speak, instead of to be spoken … what speaks her? What speaks when The Method speaks?
This isn’t a trick.
My brain breaks and puts me in mind of Jack Spicer, and his relationship, say, to Garcia Lorca, or Billy the Kid. Or, say, the relationship of the unconscious to the contents of a dream …
The unconscious, we recall, is structured like a language …
Like whose? The Martians?
All I know is that when, later in the poem I’ve quoted above, Steensen writes, “Everyone insists that I will write about pregnancy, but I won’t”, my brain breaks again and I think: this book, these poems, are something like dream work. I mean, one of the first pages reads:
She dug the box
out of the closet.
She stuffed the baby’s clothes
until a body
like a scarecrow’s
filled the clothes.
She placed the body
in the bed
But who knows who speaks through any of our poems?
Some of the poems are retellings of the history of the Palimpsest, e.g., “Tischendorf Takes a Leaf”, and perhaps “The Nightly Visitant” (a security guard with a flashlight?). But only more or less. In the first The Method speaks, in the second someone takes The Method’s teddy bear. As Steensen notes in “The Stranger at the Gates”,
I told you
I’d tell your story
if you’d just let me tell it.
I resent you
whom I serve.
I said I would say
what you want
but say it my way.
I am a television.
Wait. A television doesn’t say what it wants. Wait. Which brings me back to a line a few lines earlier:
I hate a metaphor.
I believe her. Metaphors seem pulled from her like … well … three lines after this one I read:
I heard her heartbeat fifteen times
before she was born.
I don’t know why I seem to keep coming back to some kind of no not equation between The Method and the foetus but uh some kind of similarity between them …
In spite of all the temptations (and I think Steensen offers those temptations knowingly, only to frustrate them), I think I’ll stop trying to “figure it all out”. Perhaps this is a palimpsest no current technologies available to me can untangle. I don’t think I can perform an archaeology, in the sense of assigning each poem, or part of poem, its coordinates and levels. There are religious concerns, and historical concerns, and autobiographical concerns, and theoretical concerns, ecological concerns, tho I’m not sure concerns is the word … it’s funny, because this isn’t an impossible book …
I mean, …
I mean, poem by poem, I get it …
and … and … again, well, tho this is a book concerning pretty much everything, I come back to the question, what is speaking here?
Poetry. That without which people die daily. As they say. In a way it’s true. The evidence is on every page. I only wish I could articulate it. But since Steensen has, or, better, since that which speaks thru her has, I don’t have to. What kind of review is this? It’s one that’s tangled in the palimpsest. It’s one that simply says, there’s only one thing for it. Though it’s not The Method speaking here
here’s a hint from a poem near the end of the book, called “Palestine”:
It’s hard to hate a people,
when you’ve read
To quote: “Give [yourself] over to the downdraft. … proceed as a companion …” … to paraphrase and dance with it.
and then what
and strange and
to know what
Blink Blink and
99 most beautiful
lack leaving a
1063 poppy seeds.
[they fill up a universe]
John Bloomberg-Rissman is the author of a number of chapbooks, most recently World Zero and A Spectrum of Other Instances. He is also the author of the full-length No Sounds of My Own Making, and the editor of 1000 Views of ‘Girl Singing’. His work has appeared in numerous journals and in several anthologies. His current project is Flux, Clot & Froth, which will probably top out at 700+ pages, and for which he hopes to find one reader, please. He is part of the team (title: editor or something) at Leafe Press. His ongoing efforts can be seen at Zeitgeist Spam.