Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
To send your new book to decomP for possible review, see our guidelines. To find out what’s currently under consideration, visit our review queue.
At some point I got blood on my copy of Beth Steidle’s book, a single drop, and after a day or so all that was left was a tiny ring of dried blood on the cover, an empty circle, and I held the book in my bandaged hand and found it appropriate, life imitating art speaking to life and to death, the membrane between and the hallways and waiting rooms that lead there.
Here is a book about hospitals and what happens in them, our bodies, “the peeling firmament” and that move, by medical experts, toward a “solution [which] is to turn the whole world inside out.” There is meditation here on nature, on mortality, on family connections, and on the poetry of specialist’s jargon. As sterile or steely as doctor-speech can be, it blooms here, the cruel terms (extubated, evacuated, liquefied, and clotted) coaxed to new life. “Examination degraded by motion artifact” we read at one point, as if notes from a chart, yet here, as with the title, there is a double valence. Wild creatures stand still; the stillness itself is a song to which we can listen.
“OPERATIVE NOTE: Blush of iodine, followed by draping. Confirm the presence of all necessary imaging tools. With these modern eyes these modern visions, ersatz saints. These days nothing escapes us. Cameras enter easily.” In science, a new mysticism, or a wonder that was always just beneath the surface, albeit increasingly repressed. The hospital becomes a religious place, full of breath and plant life, memories, poignant as they are fragmentary (“I remember the exact silhouette of her form when she sunk into the Colorado and began to swim. The river turned an oxblood where she rustled up the silt. I loved her exactly. I don’t know you at all.”) In short, in a venue in which “Everything is known,” wherein technology has rendered the impossible as routine (“A gloved hand. An outbreak of cyclones, each equipped with a singular dazzling eye, a mouth like a vacuum”) phenomenology still outstrips knowledge. Like a body sliced open and peeled back, the language of the hospital is inverted, from precise signification (a label, a measure, an assessment charted across the passage of time) to a hole in the concrete, a passage-through rather than a pointing-at. “Corneas designated for harvest,” for instance, is a phrase Steidle can lift from rote procedure and let fly.
So too with the images here, re-mystifying the known, or that mark of my own blood that, in time, served as a flag for its own absence, its exact shape and form as if designed to weather away, from blot to sign, thing to frame, clarity of name to cloud of unknowing: “The patient was presented with the options. The family was presented with the options. Everyone subsumed to what was recommended.”
Official Beth Steidle Web Site
Official Calamari Archive, Ink Web Site