a magic book

Winner of the 2004 Alberta Prize

The poems in Sasha Steensen’s splendid A Magic Book offer a feast of paradox—deceptive yet honest, funny but frightening, simple yet mysteriously complex, otherworldly yet wryly quotidian. Her sources are antiquarian archives, seventeenth-century journals, nineteenth- and twentieth-century magic acts, what has been saved and lost and saved again. Wandering the American landscape is her method for moving among materials of our checkered pastmagicians, changelings, George Washington, séances, Cotton Mather, the Davenport Brothers, W. C. Williams (Paterson), the spirit of Charles Olson. Through imaginative exorcism she brings back into our perception the experience of the invisible dead.

Susan Howe


While Gertrude Stein heard liberation in Tender Buttons, in the verbing of the noun and in her notion of the continuous present, Steensen, alive to her time, sees and hears the ultimately fallen result of use itself. Still, we are where we are, in part, because of those who came before us, and A Magic Book acknowledges the debt to generation, actual/and/linguistic that we owe. Innately Thoreauvian, Steensen also sees Nature’s involvement. Cuckoos all, we inhabit borrowed nests, choosing to acknowledge or deny that ‘we are a notion of changelings.’ A Magic Book is a profound achievement and important news for contemporary poetry.”

Claudia Keelan


Rain Taxi Review of BooksA Magic Book, Sasha Steensen’s first collection of poetry (and winner of Fence Books’ 2004 Alberta Prize), is a grid of intertextual, transhistorical tensor points, mapping the “magic” blur of the American “sleight-of-hand.”  Read more...

Interim Magazine -  “Ladies and Gentlemen, just when you thought it was too late: ‘A Magic Book!’ This daring, debut collection artfully explores the history of The Davenport Brothers, the ‘Boys from Buffalo,’ who were key to the American Spiritualist movement prior to the Civil War. Hailed by believers as proof of Spirit phenomena, their act was descried by traditional religionists as deviltry and by critics as mere stage magic. In this powerful lyric meditation, Sasha Steensen weaves the brothers’ story with early American history and the illusion of power rooted in notions of Manifest Destiny.   Read more....