An Engagement with Beth Steidle's The Static Herd

by Sophia Pouzyrev

Beth Steidle, The Static Herd (Calamari Press, 2014)

The five stages of grief as defined by most psychologists are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through fragmented lines that exemplify mental processing and abstract tangential descriptions of hospital rooms and the objects within them, the reader follows the story of Beth Steidle’s father’s six year journey with cancer. Death grows exponentially like the pictures of tumors that grow on pages, but Steidle deconstructs it like the strong deer brought to its end. At the beginning, death overwhelms the reader with lines like “The body left to bear its dark crop, a finite ripening,” where doom is the overshadowing metaphor. This mirrors the experience of Steidle’s family and their comprehension of the imminent prognosis. However, Steidle’s incorporation of death transitions into a decomposition of what empowered it in the beginning. The personification of death is exemplified in various prose poems throughout the second part of the novel like OPERATIVE NOTE, where she writes, “We asked the darkness if it had eaten. We said to the darkness, goodnight ladies and gentlemen.” Steidle takes on the foe that stole a life from her, and breaks it down objectively, asking the reader to weaken the importance of death by taking away its ominous presence and making it a person. The final stage of this dissipation comes when Steidle introduces the theme of rebirth, the impromptu sixth stage of grief. The death of Steidle’s father leads itself to the birth of new life realizations, evident as she plays with the dichotomy of disillusionment with death: “Practice weeping. The phone will go wild with brief and bioluminescent cycles. Practice restrained wails, soft gestures.” And newfound appreciation for life’s everyday moments: “Go outside, stay up late. -- Spread blankets on the lawn, wait. Lay down with the hexed dog.” We as readers are left with the obligation to move on from tragedy, and remember that death, like any other moment, is simply “fleeting.” Life, in its short and unpredictable manner, implores us to live vicariously and learn to overcome just as Steidle had to, for we are all deer, and our moment will come.

Sophia Pouzyrev is a first-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston University. She harbors a variety of other hobbies other than poetry, like theater and being able to do the human pretzel for uncomfortable amounts of time. Many of her peers and elders comment on her physical proximity to Velma. If her poetry career doesn’t work out, Pouzyrev could likely be found in twenty years in the circus.