Book Thoughts: Depression & Other Magic Tricks

I don’t remember the first time I saw Sabrina Benaim’s “Explaining My Depression to My Mother”. The YouTube video is date-stamped with the year 2014, and back then I watched a lot of poetry performances when my life felt particularly messy. Benaim’s stood out because of this line:

anxiety is the cousin visiting from out of town
depression felt obligated to bring to the party.
mom, i am the party.
only, i am a party i don’t want to be at.

#Relateable. Benaim’s personification of mental illness in this piece is incredible — the way she shakes, shouts, and talks to her unseen mother feels familiar in all the worst ways. It’s a piece I’ve seen shared time and time again on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. To this day, the full performance makes my stomach swoop:

So, when Benaim’s first book of poetry showed up on my recommended reads on NetGalley, I immediately clicked through, hoping for the same raw energy in her written work as she displays in her performance pieces. Depression & Other Magic Tricks boasts a lot of that same passion, though the translation of her work to text rather than speech sometimes leaves things to be desired.

From the book’s introduction, which plays with words and what they mean until Benaim circles back around to a simple “hello” to deep, aching pontifications on what it looks like to not get out of bed even on the mornings when you only hit the snooze button once, Depression digs deep into the emotions of someone who struggles daily with mental illness. It digs into parental relationships and romantic relationships and personal feelings of loss. It digs into trauma and all of its trappings while still remaining vague enough to push the reader into difficult, emotional places where we’re really able to sit with Benaim’s metaphors and experience them for ourselves.

our brains remember the infliction
of pain, be it physical, psychological, or emotional.
we remember this hurt as a means to avoid it in the future.
– “how to fold a memory”

Benaim’s writing in Depression & Other Magic Tricks is heavy, though it has moments where it borders on overwrought. The magnetism of her performance pieces doesn’t translate well to the page, which leaves some metaphors hanging in the balance. This is unfortunate, seeing as one of Benaim’s strongest skills is her ability to weave extended metaphors.

The run-on quality of her longer pieces (often presented as paragraphs, rather than line-by-line poems), in particular, evokes the panicked, breathless way she performed “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” in that 2014 video. Reading these pieces made me want to hear them in order to fully immerse myself in and understand them. The passion is there — but reading these pieces lacks the finesse of hearing them in Benaim’s own voice.

That being said, I still loved this book. I felt the same guttural tug reading Depression & Other Magic Tricks as I feel every time I watch Benaim perform. I just wanted more, and by more I mean performance. This poet’s words are not meant to be ingested in a book format. But I still think this is a solid read, and it makes me excited for what else Sabrina Benaim produces in the future.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
Recommended for: Everyone

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