January 2009

Andrew Wessels

poetry

The Method by Sasha Steensen

From Fence Books comes the latest book from the young poet Sasha Steenson. The Method refers, tangentially, to a text by the Greek mathematician Archimedes, which over the course of time has survived via rewritings, overwritings, and underwritings. The Archimedes text manifests itself in Steenson’s poems as a character, named the Method, which is part man, part abstract idea, and part text.

Whereas many poetry collections in the last few years have fully incorporated a single idea as the driving point of the entire collection, Steensen uses the Archimedes text as a jumping off point. Method ties all the poems together, but it does not override each poem’s unique existence for the sole sake of keeping the series consistent. Steensen quickly moves beyond a mere versifying of remnants of the Archimedes text and creates a world for Method that is resonant:

            Each angle Archimedes draws

            ends up in an orphanage
            where it is stolen at night

            and scattered.

            Like a good son before he becomes bitter
            The Method lets Archimedes linger.

            It’s like having Archimedes’s brain in a box

Steensen in similarly deft fashion takes on the profession of the poet and the act of writing without seeming didactic or merely appealing to other writers. Her verse goes beyond the workshop and beyond the bounds of the academy to make itself relevant to any reader. She draws the connection between the act of writing and every person’s daily task of making sense of their own life:

            The complete sentence
            is lionized.
            The fiercest beast
            in the jungle
            is complete.
            Without one.
            When we see one,
            we halt.
            we waltz.
            I’m utterly.
            I’m completely.
            In love
            with the sentence.
            I will serve it
            gladly.
            You should
            Serve it
            completely.
            Otherwise.

Steensen includes periodic untitled bits of verse, which are more aphorism than poem. They contribute to the idea of the book as an amalgam of texts from various times by various writers for various purposes:

            road, come pass
            with me terrors
            by the side
            of seas & easterlies

The collection reaches the height of its power during the fifteen part prose-poem “The Future of an Illusion.” The poem references Freud, Pound, Scarry, Herodotus, and others, yet does so in a gentle, seamless manner that draws depth and inspiration from its sources without sending the reader running to the library:

            There is no reason to return home, even though my home is now
            bigger than it once was, being a ranch with not a single cow or horse.
            Method realizes others must have the same thoughts, but their parents
            busily distribute missing person posters and their police scour the
            fields and rivers. Ultimately, there is no place like it, but saying it will
            not get you there.

Beyond the locus point of Archimedes and the theme of writing, Steensen touches upon a vast range of other issues. Many of her settings are in Constantinople or contemporary Istanbul, which provides the backdrop for the writer’s photograph; pregnancy and the creation of the new; Islam; and difficult love. What ties all these together with Archimedes and the Method is code. The letters that make up Archimedes’ text, the mixing DNA that creates a new human, the word of God written in the Qu’ran, the attempts to converse with the lover and understand what is beyond the outer skin.

Near the end Steensen leaves readers with a call for multiculturalism, understanding, and the power of poetry to cross boundaries:

            It is hard to hate a people,
            Method chants,

            Saba, Savva,
            old man,
            fiih,

            when you’ve read
            their poetry.

Steensen’s verse is poignant without being didactic. Her poems touch upon both timeless issues and contemporary issues, while still creating lines that are interesting, beautiful, humorous, and desirous in their own right as pure art.

The Method by Sasha Steensen
Fence Books
ISBN: 1934200174
88 Pages