I feel like the problem with the current wave of poetry is medium. Many of the today’s poet are made famous through slam videos going viral and easily-digestible Instagram word bites that have collected a following of new poetry readers that wouldn’t have had access to poetry previously.
But people are getting book deals way too quickly, when they are not ready for the transition into books. While a poet can write a great performance poem, or even several great performance poems, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can write a great book of poetry. That emotional poetry that grabs us in a YouTube video is boring and repetitive after twelve pages. You stop caring about the words and straight up just start resenting the writer for strapping you into a vague and confused feeling free-fall. Which is what ended up happening to me as I read Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim.
The heart of this book is break up poems mixed with the ever so popular mental illness poems. Which is perfect if you’re doing slam where the emotional pain is an asset. Benaim is a great performance poet, you should totally go watch her videos, but book is weakened by the very things that make a slam poet good. The images used to describe basic things make no sense and it pulled me right out of reader mode into “who the fuck told you that it okay to throw that many overly described nouns together” editor mode. In slam, you can fit six or seven metaphors to explain how you feel in a moment and it’s fine. In writing, six or seven metaphors is really annoying to read and all I see is two pages on how much of an asshole Benaim’s (maybe?) ex is. I found myself flipping through pages to find shorter poems that could hold my attention which was made an even greater challenge by Benaim’s inconsistent structuring. Did I mention that the poems might have also all been connected, too? All together, I felt as though Benaim was a much weaker poet than she actually is. Benaim is just a very particular type of poet.
Ultimately, I believe that Benaim needs more time. She needs to boil her poetry down further into a purer form and challenge herself outside of the comforts of performance topics. In short, I didn’t like this book, and I want Benaim to try again. Also, Benaim refers to herself as “little lady.” Think of that what you will, but it drove me absolutely nuts because I just want context.