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%E2%80%94many of which, like "messofwheat" and "fullofcoon," are as delightful, messy, and frustrating as memory itself%E2%80%94deepen 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.)