blackbirdonline journalSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3

Selections from The Magic Life
M.A. Keller


The Magic Life is one of three manuscripts of some 300 total poems by Steve Scafidi, most of them unpublished, centering around the life and death of Abraham Lincoln.

A selection of forty-five of these poems formed the manuscript for To the Bramble and the Briar, a Miller Williams Prize winner published by University of Arkansas press in 2014.

The remaining poems from the three manuscripts, with few exceptions, are largely unavailable. Having heard Steve Scafidi read some of these poems over the years, such as “The Tuba,” “The Mustache,” and “The Circus,” while talking always as he does about the role of the imagination in poetry (and having long heard accounts of these manuscripts from his advising readers) we asked him to send us a selection of unpublished poems for considersation for our last legacy Blackbird issue.

The Lincoln manuscripts originally included, in some poems, fictional footnotes as Scafidi performed world-building by combining historical fact with with the personal stories of friends, coworkers, and his own life, as he imagiined the life of Lincoln. These footnotes, as Scafidi describes in the conversation also published in this issue, did not make the cut at University of Arkansas Press.

Blackbird received and read the first of Scafidi’s manuscripts, The Magic Life. After parsing through to see which of the poems were already included in To the Bramble and the Briar, and which were not, we selected nine poems. Several of the poems appearing here had fictive footnotes in manuscript and those footnotes are included in an effort to show something of Scafidi’s original intent for the overall project. Variant versions (without footnotes) of “The Junebugs” and “The Law” first appeared in Shenandoah.

In addition, The Magic Life manuscript had two epigraphs: one was attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson; the other was attributed to the fictional Clifton Hardy, who is also cited in footnotes throughout the project. The text attributed to Emerson, however, is as equally as invented as the Clifton Hardy passage.

Both epigraphs are included here as proper introductions to the selection of poems, and to the sometimes playful, yet always exacting and deeply felt, craft of a poet in his visitation with—and his re-creation of—a mythic and historical life.  end

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