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ISBN: 978-1-62557-940-9
Categories Poetry

The Magic Kingdom

Publication Date: April 2016


Russel Swensen’s Magic Kingdom is a glass globe, shattered like the one Charles Foster Kane let fall, a sphere of obsession in which the past is a fugue of vanished music and desolate mornings, glamorous and desperate gestures in a city gone liquid and dream-quick with cocaine and sexual promise. This poet knows from the beginning that intoxication ends, and beloved companions scatter and perish; such dicey kingdoms don’t come again. But it is his work, his lament and his privilege to place the unfinished past at the center of his bristling, troubled art.

-Mark Doty, author of Deep Lane

Once you’re fully tilted into Russel Swensen’s monstrous debut, you think maybe the speaker is a ghost, particular to a gone Los Angeles trajectory. It’s safest to think this, that the speaker is a trace, a fading touch, that the speaker can’t hurt or be hurt anymore. But reader, for real though: this is not that book. This book’s speaker is a haunt of elaborate and devastating musculature. Haunt mutters its quiet as with a scalpel and bodies its bigger noise with proportional, bruising elegance. The variety of its formal modes, the variable velocities and transparent grace of its reason and relation, the subtle philosophical inquiry and absolute grit is stunning, physically, and the reader that moves with the haunt through these poems becomes an engaged, sometimes enraged, acquaintance, ever more enveloped and vulnerable to this world. Here, we are companion to a savaged Romantic, grinding his grin and grimace into a paradise of artifice he’s made show its ass. Hey boss: get haunted this way, have these dicey eyes, you’re going to need a few extra hearts, get a grip on letting go without ever really being able to, be grateful, maybe put on a different shirt, maybe put on Elliot Smith and Songs: Ohia and the Wrens, maybe realize your own life coming back, one broken window, one wet eyelash, one smudge of ash in a wince of sunlight at a time as you pass the sign that says welcome to Magic Kingdom.

-Marc McKee, author of Bewilderness

Some poetry teaches us how to live, some how to die. Russel Swensen’s poems accomplish both at the same time, which is remarkable for all sorts of reasons, least of which is that he sets himself smack dab in the middle of their drama, their heartache, their intense highs and lows. That we find a poet placing himself at the center of his work is not unusual-it’s very human-but rarely is the work so convincing, so compelling, that what we take to be autobiographical becomes myth. The Magic Kingdom is just that, a twenty-first century American mythology.

-Hayan Charara, author of Something Sinister

There’s a certain kind of poetry, a certain kind of life, that’s like tracing your finger in a swift running brook. But this isn’t it.” The specter of Los Angeles rises from this book like a kirigami city. With a vexed and haunted fragility, Swensen writes furiously into this landscape-looking for a way in and a way out-“I want to burn eye-holes into the page” he says, peering at us though through slits. Without and within: fractured Psyche, snapshots of the dead underwater, snippets of barroom talk, valentines reduced to ash, the sun setting on our collective youth next to the broken down roller-coaster, the end of a movie reel flicking its celluloid tail in the dark. Both a fight song and an elegy, this book is sad & sexy, blunt & delicate-troubled into being “where Sunset splits likes a serpent’s tongue.” I wanted to cradle this book in my arms but I was afraid it might bite.

-Karyna McGlynn, author of I Have To Go Back To 1994 and Kill a Girl

In Russel Swensen’s paralyzing collection The Magic Kingdom, the streets of Los Angeles become veins, blood cells crowding the speaker as he tries to stay afloat amidst the crush of lost friends and lovers, “blonde hair/ braided into a glass of salt water.” The wild, unique beasts of LA are all here, a crystal deer stopping traffic, a Christ whose mouth twists open, a white song “drifting out like something from a fog machine.” Swensen’s surreal furies suture a pulsing landscape full of horror and tragedy, beauty and devastation. Blood runs the streets of Los Angeles in The Magic Kingdom, but what sicknesses and hitchhikers run amidst the cells? And what monstrous heart does Swensen feed with this blood?

-Glenn Shaheen, author of Energy Corridor

About the Author

Russel Swensen

Russel Swensen earned his MFA in fiction from the California Institute of the Arts and his doctorate in poetry from the University of Houston. He is the author of Santa Ana (2012) and The Magic Kingdom (2016). His fiction and poetry have appeared in Black Clock, Quarterly West, Pank, Third Coast, Devil's Lake, The Collagist, The Destroyer, and elsewhere.

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