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Review: Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim

by Jaci Schreckengost about a year ago in book reviews
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A review of Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim.

Review: Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim
Photo by Rhett Wesley on Unsplash

Sabrina Benaim is a 31-year-old, Canadian poet who emphasized her voice in the world when her literal voice was threatened by a tumor in her throat. This medical complication highlighted the importance of what she wanted to say to the world. Following this issue, Benaim has used writing and spoken word poetry as a way to maneuver it, as well as her anxiety and depression.

Benaim’s 2017 poetry collection “Depression & Other Magic Tricks” is a 75-page book that explores Benaim’s journey with modern life in regard to mental health. It shows the current human experience with mental health in a creative and relatable way. At a point in time with so many people around the world experiencing issues with mental health, it is necessary to learn to live with these newly common challenges.

Though Benaim and I come from different backgrounds, different countries, and different experiences in the world, I relate to her work through her writing to manage anxiety and depression. I also feel a relation to the way her poems are often constructed; many of her poems feel like you are not meant to breathe while reading them. This is a connection to anxiety, in those situations where one has felt like they have been talking for an extended period of time without taking a breath. The form of the pieces serves as an important insight to the message conveyed by the collection as a whole. None of the poems in the collection have a specific rhyme scheme, creating a sense of constant change, which can also be found in mental illness. Her use of irony, specific form, and her tone create a larger message about mental illness within this collection.

The first piece in the book is titled first date; it is a page and a half, with sparse capital letters, random spacings, and seemingly no strict form to follow, which is ironic in the fully justified text on the page. The piece is essentially a long-winded elevator pitch about herself, which is why it has been given a significant location in the book: before the table of contents. The placement of this poem shows its importance and serves as Benaim’s introduction.

It’s hard to pick my favorite poems in the book, as each piece is beautifully crafted. When I break it down to tiny details, my favorite piece is how to unfold a memory // the kentucky heartbreak shuffle. And my favorite line from it, just because it feels so dang relatable: “it’s my hands that can’t keep a secret. my legs, too eager to run into the music.”

The final poem in the collection, follow-up a prayer / a spell, is an almost entirely 2-line stanza poem, with only the final stanza containing 4 lines. The poem has an ambitious tone and a feeling of starting something new, which is one example of the irony she uses. The final line of the poem is: “i exhale / & i begin”. This poem allows the reader to very literally see endings can be beginnings; just like Benaim has done here, with the final word in the collection being “begin.”

The cover of this book, designed by Nikki Clark, has an off-white background, with an outline in black of a head and part of a face. The face has pink lipstick and blue hair pulled up in a ponytail. The face, however, does not show anything above the tip of the figure’s nose. This creates a feeling of a lack of sight of the writer’s future. When she could not metaphorically see what would happen in the future, she turned to poetry for guidance through the difficult parts of life. The title of the collection is written in cursive under the outline.

To get a little less literal and formal, this book is one of my absolute favorites. I think it's a gorgeous collection that expresses pain, love, home, and health. I also love using these pieces when introducing young writers to poetry, as the pieces vary widely throughout the collection. I've found it helps make writers feel like poetry has to be any certain way, which I think is helpful to learn as early as possible.

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About the author

Jaci Schreckengost

Hey there, I'm Jaci Schreckengost.

Here are some pieces of my writing. They're all drafts; some on revision one, some on revision ninety.

You can see more of my work at jacischreckengost.com. I'm also on Instagram @JaciSchreckengost.

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