Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sasha Steensen's The Method

Method is a life. A valuable child corrupted, animal at times, an apathetic old man. In this way, Method is “his own his/ And no one else’s,” but he isn’t always. Rather, he begins as The Method, an ancient manuscript written by Archimedes and having something to do with infinitesimals, a lever, and the center of gravity. In other words, Method is an object until Sasha Steensen comes along, gives him a heart in her latest.

In MORROW-HEARTED METHOD DREAMS, The Method is introduced as a beached whale, “stuck and nudged/ into each side / by curious vacationers.” Recently awakened, he recalls fragments of a life seemingly dreamt.

Ganging to remember

how he ate stars

how his liver escaped out his anus

and the sun rose through his genitals

Here, The Method remembers himself as the mathematician’s manuscript, an object with human parts. And so continues the first half of Steensen’s book in its attempt to relate the history of a living text. The Method is made into a “he,” a character-object with memories and emotions but without agency. Left to the will of others, the Method is written on, abducted, stolen from, corrupted, and eventually made indifferent.

While The Method’s history is not necessarily presented in chronological order, Steensen’s characterization of Method as both child and man suggests that the the object-as-character moves through time. UNDER THE LEA OF THE SPANKER describes the relationship between the Method and his early master, how “Archimedes took the Method to his knee/ until his bottom half resembled a raging fire.” Similarly, he is stolen from a museum by a “nightly visitant” who “lifts his teddy bear from his grip, gently.” However, as the Method is exposed to the violence of genocide, war, and present-day “methods/ of torture,” he is morphed from a child into a dangerous animal-man, “slinking down some alley/ back to some second century, licking his chops.” In this way, Steensen equates the creation of an object to the creation of an identity.

In THE FUTURE OF AN ILLUSION, this equation is complicated when The Method becomes Method, a character created by Sasha Steensen. Surprisingly, Steensen acknowledges the complication, shifts from verse to prose and suggests, “Perhaps I could use my own words just this once and make Method mouth what I desire.” In the same poem we learn that “Method had to eat his relatives during a long winter lost in the mountains...used his own pages to kindle the fire.” Here, Method seemingly scraps his identity in order to survive. However, the following section beginning “There is no reason to return home” suggests “memory becomes a cord connecting us to this house, feeding us, and we recognize that we will probably die here.” Perhaps this is why, in METHOD INTERVIEWS A MONK, the Method asks, “What tools are used for the Liturgy of the Catechumens?” and the monk responds, “The asterisk and the disc, the spoon, the spear, and the oblation.” Despite the history separating Method from his original creator, Archimedes and his symbols resurface every now and then.

Steensen's assertion of this eternal, umbilical connection to “home” is a seeming comfort until it becomes clear Archimedes would turn in his grave if he saw Method today. In his old age, Method is lazy and apathetic. “From his beach blanket, he sees great distances of lives, a mass of withering lintels & wattles & lemmings. Luckily, the tide rises and pulls it all under. He rolls over, sunning his other side.” Method, “scratching himself slowly in solemn spots,” is “rotten and stinking up the world’s libraries” while his master has become the powerless one. In this way, Steensen equates the relationship between creator and object to that of parent and child, and, despite her assertion that “Everyone insists that I will write about pregnancy, but I won’t,” implicates herself as a parent hesitant to cut the cord.

That Method is the child becomes clear in STRANGER AT THE GATES which describes a relationship between master and servant that ends in bitterness.

I say what you want me to say.

I say how brave.

I say how clever.

I say how we went together


How you loved me.

How we became a we

and I died and you lived on

restored and pretty.

Here, “I” begins as the servant, object, or identity to be instructed by “you” and ends as the disempowered creator who is no longer able to influence her creation. Accordingly, in WEST EATS MEAT, Method becomes “Master Method,” a monster unrecognizable to “We” who end up eating his carcass. And so we are left to wonder how we might protect our creations if we do not recognize them as our own. The separation must happen, though, as is suggested by Method’s beheading in ME THEE ODES.

He is himself about the ground,

rolling and wild

with his




And while bits of Method’s past or past lives might filter through from time to time, his connection to those fragments is never completely restored. In THIS PLAIN PLACE Method empathizes with a bandicoot searching its empty pouch.

He understood the animal’s sorrow

to find plainly and without denial

emptiness where a relation ought to be

Just as Method cannot simply have his hair follicles transplanted in order to restore his “old self,” and just as a rag baby is no substitute for “her bare foot from the inside,” The Method is irreplaceable.


  1. Ashley--

    The Method sounds like an interesting collection, and your review seems like its a really poigianant collection-- I thought your review was fairly smooth throughout, the only thing I had any sort of an issue with was the beginning, when I had no clue what you were talking about. The sentence, "Method is life," and then your following description is nice, and I appreciate that you're trying to write a creative beginning, but I'd rather not reread it several times trying to figure out what I'm missing. Maybe keep the sentences, but move something like this:

    The Method is an ancient text by Arch. made into a “he,” a character-object with memories and emotions but without agency. Left to the will of others, the Method is written on, abducted, stolen from, corrupted, and eventually made indifferent.

    a little bit closer to the beginning. (Sorry, I added "an anciet text by Archimedes")

    Overall, a an engaging review (I'll prob. try and order this from the lib.), just work on the first stanza/paragraph.


  2. Like Brett, I was a little confused by the first paragraph of the review. You had me till the Wikipedia reference (she wouldn't say that, would she? She WOULD! Or is Wikipedia in the book?:)). However, the rest of the review is pretty stellar. I could probably start on the second paragraph without skipping a beat as to what you were talking about with maybe one sentence about The Method.

    Your transitions and introductions of lines are lovely. There may be a few too many actual lines from the poem at times, particularly around the middle of the review. I like the "taste" very much, but I also want to be poked every now and again with a "You should really read this"-esque statement or two. It feels a little like summary at times, (I understand that is definitely an angle to take while writing a review, so maybe that's actually the point?) so maybe a sentence here or there explaining the "so-what-ness" of the book and what makes it compelling would be good. Just personal preference.

    I think you have, though, probably picked some of the best, most interest-sparking passages, so props for that!

  3. I like the opening line "Method is a life." It's a little obtuse, but after reading more of the review, I get what you mean. It's provocative and attention-grabbing. I'd keep it. (I do agree w. Steph, though, that the Wikipedia reference feels weirdly out of place... if you got the info from Wikipedia, then just give the info... if it's something in the poem, rephrase for clarity.)

    There's something about the format that's rubbing me the wrong way. I either want to see clearer transitions from one collection to the next, or I want an overhead shot-- arranged topically, not in the linear fashion (i.e. how the book's laid out). This might just be, again, for clarity... or maybe because this feels less like a book review and more like a book report. (Here's what happens in this chapter, here's what happens in the next chapter...)

    But what do I know. I like the excerpts that you draw out, but the format there is confusing, too-- sometimes you give them space of their own, sometimes they're embedded; sometimes they have line break, sometimes it's prose with no indicator of line break (I'm wondering if this is reflective of the text itself?)

    I'm interested in who this Method Man is-- or what your guess is. I understand that "he becomes a character" but why did she choose this Method? Could you explore that? Or could you just tell me what you think if you feel like it doesn't fit in this review? I'm curious.