cover image House of Deer

House of Deer

Sasha Steensen. Fence (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (94p) ISBN 978-1-934200-77-3

Pitch-perfect in the iconography and angst that define growing up in the American Midwest, Steensen (The Method) leads a slow crawl through a family album of 1970s-era Ohio baby boomers, when "more than a million hippies went back to the land." Treating the corn belt like a cabinet of curiosities, Steensen dusts off a once carefree and careless America, when "the strawberry social and the soapbox derby" went hand in hand with muscle cars and "The Skylane Drive-Thru Liquor Store." But it's not all roach clips and feathered hair. In this Midwestern gothic suffused with foreboding and a twinge of doom, Steensen invokes the ghost of Ohio native Hart Crane as a marker for the absurd and tragic. The most striking conflict arises between "memory, an ember on a pile of dead leaves," and the degree to which Steensen resists entering fully into her remembrance. The forced compound words that define the book's title sequence—many of which, like "messofwheat" and "fullofcoon," are as delightful, messy, and frustrating as memory itself—deepen the sense that Steensen is trying to both rush through her memory and retrieve it from a welter. Though occasionally clumsy, Steensen's poems are fascinating in how they tackle stories "the writer cannot tell." (Apr.)