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Sandra Simonds


Sandra Simonds
Alice In America
Alice better drive her wet cunt faster than
Western Union Oklahoma horse hooves
Out into the night's capital-letter
Alice better become a worse debtor
Fail better? Never! Alice better fail worse
Than the open letter Empire of letters
One better for the American settler
Last stop on the chain-letter

This psychometric Republic
Houses astronomic debtors
With geometric heads and aches
Get well Never get better Their optometrists
Housed in glass malls Their glasses
Concave Alice moves in convex debit card
Transactions Alice holding wet contracts
Is not convinced Alice with ripped contact lenses
Her pupils ripe but her flesh always object
Her asymmetric breasts toujours touched by men in charge

Skinned-knee Alice in a desert
Crosswind the woodwinds played on
Alice as drowned doll eyes and antique boots
When as a child she read the ship sunk
She felt the joy of wind-leapt trees
Burn everything
Sink everything please
All eyes on the thick-skinned
Stockbrokers' heaven a whirlwind
Of electronic devices the plane
In headwinds pressed on the continent
Bloody-minded the way women
Who are pressed into suburbs
Collapse the supremacist minds
Of violent men who create
Money and ideas and dominance

Collision of passengers and jet fuel
A field of vision no less Parisian
Than communizing cell-division
Alice looks up each catastrophe
In her rhyming dictionary like a dying breed
Of Dionysian woman
Like a convulsing town
Of complex strollers and baby cries and pesticides
From here on out, Alice, you must take sides
With your long-division

Autumn in Allah or Guatemala
In Golem Salem Gaza
Quebec in Caracas Dallas
In Oz In Hell there are fifteen synonyms for
Sex but only one word for the police force
There's Alice climbing on top of a body
To forget all these wars and bullets
There's Alice with Mutual Fund
Waldorf salads and alcohol
To ward off the inevitable toward

My tome has come and yours will
Drone my time bomb My dollface My mask
Like a training drill or fire alarm or police baton
My passenger jet drones on the black dahlia's
Severed head like a mirror that says
This is all women Cut in half in
Fourths in eights
With the magician's wand
Alice, bombshell, babe, take my language
My genitalia and make
your bombed out bake sale
Break and rage glass poetry
Palaces into tatterdemalion

Oh Alice
Hold your dura mater close to
Your body of hot water
Make water like a squatter
Make gray water
Make red water
Make tonic water
Make whatever it is berserk better
An iceberg or Gettysburg Make all your ideas
Address me


They were building an askance Calvin They were asking They went on a hunt They were in the Netherlands They were wearing ice cubes They were a sphere of influence They were building a Catholic schoolgirl They were split like Germans They were split like dogs They were in a psalm They were in an amen sort of way They were easy They were not They were easy They were not easy They were at ease They were walking to the drugstore They had diarrhea They were uncomfortable They were building a Catholic schoolgirl They were aggravated They were not They were world weary aristocrats They were improvising They were a congregation They were distracted from the role of worship They were afraid of the West Nile virus They were us They were important and American You are incredible! They were simple songs They were antiphonal They were simple Catholic schoolchildren They were a choir They were testing the waters They were building a Catholic schoolgirl They were adverse They were trapping onions They were responsorial They were geniuses! They were following the leader They were split like dogs They were leaders themselves They were listening to one version of the hallelujah They knew about the soloist They were singing the next verse They knew about your church They were without a leader They were interesting kings They did not recognize the song They knew the old 100th They were a doxology They were reformed They were sitting They were theologically pumped They retracted their statements They were traditional They were not They were conventional They were not They were all pretty They knew this They were much more political They were divorced They were reading about Henry the 8th They were rude They were not They did not want to listen to the king They did They did not want to follow the leader They did They did not want to sing the songs They did They did not They did sometimes They did always They did often They did not They were the outgrowth of anthems They were too Were not! Did too! Did not! They were building a Catholic schoolgirl They were cats They were cats on stilts They ate onions They ate clams They were trained musicians They were reading They were large and electronic They were like grandmother's cookies They were eating BBQ pork They were vegans They ate beef They were hypocrites They told us we must take sides They were men They were enormous They were not They were mindful They cleaned banks at night They reflected the structure of the world They were timed They blew the trumpet in the new moon They refused They collected trash They collected toys They collected land They accumulate land They landed They have cut the land with time They have cut the milk with beef They have cut the beef with horns They have cut the horns with gods They have cut the gods with toys They have cut the toys with Catholic schoolgirls They have cut the Catholic schoolgirls with trumpets They have cut the trumpets with the leader They have cut the leader with land They have cut the land with time Your poems are immature and buzzing Your poems are immaculate And lewd Your poems are buzzing Your poem is waspy Your poems are as immature as they are cunning They are cutting They are biting They are like pieces of cake They are extreme They are elemental They are losing They are too long They bore me to death They are losers They are winners They are round They are soft They are longing They are important They are accumulating They are wealthy They are satanic They are round They are going on and on about nothing Your poems are truly special They are kindergarteners They are rejects They are rejecting They are bears They are timetables They are huge They are soft They are rejects They remember being published They explain They are the ultimate They were created at work They were working They were on their own time They were timed They were confused They were misinformed They missed you They loved you but whatever They were the opposite of something They had no idea They were confused They were boring They went on and on They were derivative They were cunning They were crafty They were simple They were announcements They were long They did not stop You are incredible! They are magnificent They do not stop They are marginal They are cunning They went on and on They were repetitive They cared about your feelings They were rejecting you They were cups They were plates They were at dinner They were diarrhea They were cunning They disagreed They did not stop They remembered They were historic They were calm They were annoying They were nice You are so nice that I want to kiss you You are incredible! They had no ethics They were rewinding They were so boring They climbed a mountain They were losers They were incredible! They went on and on They were passing the time They existed They existed to pass the time They passed out Their lines were not long enough Their lines were too short Their lines were historic Their lines were liars They died They were derivative They were expanding They were expunged They didn't understand They were incredible! They understood They went on and on They were unknowing They tended to be philosophical They tended to be sexy They tended to one another They had a tendency to They tended to lambs They tended to bears They tended to their own needs They put themselves first They put themselves above everyone else They were arrogant They were conceited They were deceived They were nice They were unethical They were nice They were building a factory They were bears They were people They were men and women They were bears They were nice They tended to gardens They tended to make love They tended to be sexless They tended to make love on Fridays They tended to be sexless They were criminally insane! They were incredible! They went on and on They were givers They were more givers than takers Sometimes you tend to give Sometimes you tend to be a giver Sometimes you make love on Fridays You say this is derivative You say this is exponential You say this is boring You say this is mathematical You say I am using the Fibonacci sequence You say I am right You say I am conservative You say I am a loner You say I am derivative You say you make love on Fridays You say you are sexless She was so nice that it was extremely annoying She was nice and needy and nice She made you a carrot cake because she was so nice She was so nice and careful I am nice Okay, I am not She was interested in being nice She was nice Alice, are you nice? Maybe not She was flavored nice She was nice We was nice We was flavored nicely We was nice she was Were she nice? Was she never ever nice? Nice she was? Was she nice? We was nice? Nice Nicer Nicer and nicer Nicer still Nice Nice Lice are not nice Lice are lice Lice are not nice Not nice! Not nice Not Nice Not France Supposedly not Supposedly opposed The opposite The opposed Supposedly the opposite You are spectacular! You are formal and spectacular! For her Go for her For her Fourier? Don't splash the water, friend The truth is that this poem was written using the Fibonacci Sequence That is a fib That is a bib That is a lobster That is Maine That is MAN That is noise That is NOT That is not happening Oh god this is not happening There is our toddler There is our town I am nice This poem was written using the Fibonacci Sequence In that sense it is confessional I have heard many noises today Because I am typing That is a fib You are a fat liar and I am hateful So there I want to make a long, happy poem cry I am poking a stick in the torso of my long happy poem It will not cry Oh you think that this is so terrible? Well you try to write a better one, friend Well, you're right On target Right on On the right there lived a family It's gone Question: Sandman, how can you write poems so inconsequential? Answer: Because I am self-conscious and nervous And trembling I love you so much you make me nervous That is not true No one makes me nervous because I am not a child I am chilling out It is Sunday It is Monday and I am still chilling out frying up a steak because I am nice This is beer This is a candle This is cupid This is nice Occupy Wall Street I made you cupcakes I made you bread I made you pumpkin pie I made you pumps I made you already I made you soon I made you love It was manmade I made you limp I made you Christ I miss you Christ I miss your nice manmade pumps I made you a factory I made you a factory I made you a factory I made you math I factored that I factored in everything I made you love It was manmade I made you limp I made you cave I made you most I manmade you most I handmade you most I handmade you mostly You are the most You are mostly You are worth the most You are worth the most of the most You are worth more You are more Your more and more is fatiguing You're more fatiguing than a manmade man You are manly, mom This one was mostly mannish He had the worst manners He was not spectacular He wasn't more We were trying We were perceiving We knew it immediately We knew it instantly We were eating as well We were fatigued I want to make you something that only a wife can perceive I want to make you at least half of a nipple I want to make you at least one half of a terrorist Their skies were outsourced They were half mad They were criminally negligent They were unaware I want to make you something only husbands can subtract like bread pudding These were the worst of times They were the worst Thus she happened upon a criminal The movement was made by power sources It was manmade They were bored to death They were boring I'm gift wrapping you half of a terrorist They used their sources I want to make you something only a wife can accumulate such as stocks Such as large bills Such as gold coins with mold on them Such as middle of the road poets with arrows who become extreme editors because they are in charge They delve deeply into sorting I want to make you something unreasonable that only a cousin can make Maybe a penis? They were accumulating sunsets They were going to die They knew not to know it They were men and that is why they remembered In this sense we are all Snow Vikings led by revolving pursuits They remembered They crossed it out I want to make you a laughing dog etc. They were asking for conventional poems I want to make you a conventional poem Because I am so madly in love with you that I would do anything Inside my conventional poem I will fall madly in love with my own whatever That is why I am reasonable and clear-headed like an ice sculpture Or Russian mobs eating large white steaks and telling secrets Your Debt is My Command The landlady owes me hundreds of dollars I've been overpaying her for months What she doesn't know is I'm building a house for her as a present Inside the house there will be a colorful tomb I will push her into this colorful tomb She doesn't know it yet I have so many tricks up my sleeve It's because I'm passive aggressive It's because I'm mean and violent Have you built a house with a colorful tomb at its center yet? You better get going, Sir I Bet She is Incredible! I bet she has been in the Rose Parade I bet she is incredible I bet she is learning I bet she has launched I bet she is clairvoyant I bet she is going on a long sea voyage I bet she is sea worthy I bet she is a vessel I bet she is a pirate I bet she is booty I bet she is a lot I bet she is on the telephone with you I bet she is a light brunette I bet she shaves her handprints off every night I bet she is incredible I bet she is going to be in the Rose Parade I bet she is a lot I bet she is a piece of gold I bet she is a treasure I bet she is incredible I bet she reads the New York Times silently I bet she is a lot of things I bet she is talking to you on the phone I bet she is brushing her hair I bet she is getting ready to go to yoga I bet she is incredible I bet she is a dancer I bet she is a lot of things I bet she is a reader I bet she is living with her elderly grandmother I bet she is a reader I bet she is a lot of things I bet she is incredible I bet she is a reader I bet she is an excellent typist I bet she is a lot of things I bet she has been to yoga today I bet she is noble I bet she speaks in hushed tones I bet she is a reader I bet she is a lot of things I bet she is incredible I bet she washes her hair a lot I bet she is holding a napkin I bet she is on the telephone I bet she is wearing pants I bet she is incredible I bet she is an incredible dancer I bet she is a lot of incredible things I bet she dances every night I bet she is a habitat I bet she polishes her nails I bet she is incredible I bet she speaks in riddles I bet she dances every night I bet she is incredible I bet she is in excellent condition I bet she is a dancer I bet she is a habitat I bet she owns a vehicle I bet she plays the flute I bet she dances every night I bet she has a good mechanic I bet she speaks in hushed tones I bet she is incredible I bet she makes muffins every night I bet she is incredible I bet she plays Monopoly The men were incompetent the women were dancers The men were incompetent the women were dancers I was freely espousing Doug The men were incompetent the women were dancers The men were incompetent the women were dancers I was freely espousing Dough The men were West of here the women were dancers The men were West of here the women were dancers I was freely espousing Doug The men were incompetent the women were dancers The men were incompetent the women were West of here I was freely espousing Dough

                                   -from Steal It Back


Poems - Bio - Review - Interviews - Reading

Sandra Simonds is the author of four books of poetry: Steal It Back (forthcoming from Saturnalia Books, December 2015), The Sonnets (Bloof Books, 2014), Mother Was a Tragic Girl (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2012), and Warsaw Bikini (Bloof Books, 2009). Her poems have been included in the Best American Poetry 2015 and 2014 and have appeared in many literary journals, including Poetry, the American Poetry Review, the Chicago Review, Granta, Boston Review,  Ploughshares, Fence, Court Green, and Lana Turner. In 2013, she won a Readers’ Choice Award for her sonnet “Red Wand,” which was published on Poets.org, the Academy of American Poets website. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida and is an assistant professor of English and Humanities at Thomas University in Thomasville, Georgia. Sandra’s fifth book, Further Problems with Pleasure, is the winner of the 2015 Akron Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from the University of Akron Press.


Poems - Bio - Review - Interviews - Reading

A Review of Sandra Simonds Steal It Back, first published at Publishers Weekly

Displaying her signature fierceness, Simonds (The Sonnets) wreaks havoc in this provocative, spontaneous, and confrontational fourth collection, leaving “some subatomic skull-fractured wilderness, bombardment kissed.” She explores, among other things, motherhood and the substance of feminism against the backdrop of a contemporary American landscape marred by capitalism: “I passed the Hooters, Publix, McDonald’s/ where I sometimes use the internet to grade papers/ when my neighbor’s internet is down.” Seemingly written in a breathless rush, moving from thought to thought, Simonds’s poems address her current circumstances and those of others who struggle. “Sephora, this one’s for my sagging face/ and the service worker who wants to sell me/ pink hair mascara. She is poor; let her/ sell. This poem is for my debit/ card,” she writes, “And it is also for the legislation/ of my uterus.” Simonds does not agonize over craft. Instead, she draws momentum from quickly recorded streams of thought and the messiness of daily life. “A Poem for Landlords” starts acerbically before unwinding into a sort of day report: “I am writing this so quickly./ Soon Craig will be home/ and I will need to breastfeed/ and cook dinner.” But amid Simonds’s ephemera, lines resonate: “The world will not be saved by despair/ so we should spend it all on joy, right?”


Poems - Bio - Review - Interviews - Reading

An Interview with Sandra Simonds by Krysia Orlowski, first published at Barn Owl Review

Krysia Orlowski: What does being a poet mean to you?

Sandra Simonds: For me, being a poet has to do with a particular kind of engagement with the world. I’m using the term “engagement” the way Sartre uses it, so I’m thinking about being a poet as a conscious commitment to the social, historical, political, and cultural concerns of our time which develops through the very act of writing poetry. This usually emerges in my poetry as an inherently anti-imperialist, feminist, and leftist politics. I just can’t separate the political from the poetic—but this has been something I have grown more aware of as I have developed as a poet. Being a poet also means that you read a lot of poetry in order to understand and situate your own work within the social because poems are also arguments and positions about the world. Poems take sides and I think they should. I think that it is possible to be a poet and not write for months or even years (I’m thinking about someone like George Oppen here), and it’s also possible to be a non-poet and write a poem every day of your life. In this sense, being a poet is a serious endeavor, but writing poetry is also about play and love and sex—simply messing around with language to see what you can find and that is why I think that as poets we are always, on some fundamental level, amateurs, discovering what is possible. I probably hold a romantic view of the poet in the world which I should be embarrassed about.

KO: Being a mother to young children and a writer is challenging. Yet you also manage to teach, blog, publish poetry, and put out new books. How do you do it all? What is your day-to-day like?

SS: Like many working parents, my life is very busy. I have two children, a four year old son and a six month old baby daughter. I would say that I spend over ninety percent of my time between raising them (changing diapers, cooking, folding laundry, washing dishes, breastfeeding, driving to daycare, etc) and my work as a professor (committee meetings, grading papers, setting up Blackboard sites, making syallbi, going to class, commuting to the university). The time that is leftover, I divide between doing nothing and writing poetry. When I was younger and didn’t have kids, I spent a lot more time on my poetry and I needed to spend that time on my poetry, because I needed to work more on each poem because I was learning how to write. I used to spend hours and hours writing and most of what I wrote was terrible. But now, I don’t have that luxury of time so I have to make sure that the time that I spend matters, which is stressful. Here is a concrete example. In my new manuscript in-progress, the Natural History of Blood, I am writing a series of poems about teaching Humanities courses at my university. I recently had to put my two children in a supplemental daycare for a week because the daycare that I usually take them to was closed. In the poem I say, “It cost me $523 dollars to write this poem. Make it matter.” The $523 is the amount that I spent on the supplemental daycare for the week. I only quote my own poetry to sort of show you how my life and art intersect.

KO: Mother Was a Tragic Girl is your second book. What was the process like the second time around for getting your manuscript taken and published? What were you doing and what went through your mind when you learned it had been selected?

SS: When Michael Dumanis called me a few years ago to say that Cleveland State University Poetry Center was going to publish the book, I was really excited and really surprised for a number of reasons. I sent my first book, Warsaw Bikini, out to contests more than fifty times over the course of three years so I really wasn’t expecting my second book to be taken so quickly (I think I sent my second book to two or three places). Also, up until my second book, I really had mostly been publishing my poems in very small, handmade magazines put together by my friends. My friend Rebecca suggested that I should start sending my poems out to bigger magazines but I didn’t think that the poems would be accepted anywhere because I thought that I was writing poems that were too “experimental,” so I was surprised when my poems started to be accepted into these places. I was finishing the PhD program at FSU when I found out the book was going to be published, and it’s been fun to read books by the other poets. Off the top of my head, my favorites have been books by Emily Kendal Frey, S.E. Smith and Mathias Svalina. Michael has done an extraordinary job with the press. 

KO: In Mother Was a Tragic Girl two things that stand out for me are the titles and the sequencing of the poems, particularly the three sections. Okay, I'm packing two questions into one here, but can you describe your processes for titling poems and for sequencing this book?

SS: I actually have very little insight into my writing process, which makes me feel foolish. I don’t even know when I write. I tend to write things from start to finish in one draft—I’m not a writer who really pieces language together to make poems. I usually have a feeling that comes from deep within my body and my soul that urgently wants to write a poem or tell a story and then I write that poem. I think that sometimes this process works and most of the time this kind of process utterly fails. I can usually tell (but not always) if a poem is a “keeper” immediately after I write it and then I work to revise that poem for many months after the initial draft. In terms of titles, what I usually do is find a good line from the poem and then just take it out of the body of the poem and make it the title. I wrote the first section of Mother Was a Tragic Girl first, the second section second and the third section third. This book was very easy to put together, unlike my first book—I really struggled over the sequencing of the poems in Warsaw Bikini.

KO: I was so excited to read the manuscript for the forthcoming House of Ions. Hooray for sonnets! In an interview with Rebecca Hazelton for Devil's Lake you stated that “...people will say 'oh a fourteen line poem does not a sonnet make' but I know my sonnets arebona fide sonnets.” We all know the basic “rules” of the sonnet form, but what do you think is the true essence of a sonnet? In other words, what makes a sonnet, especially one that breaks the rules, a sonnet?

SS: There are a lot of different ways a poet can make a sonnet work. I think of the sonnet as a form that you engage if you want to also engage with the history of the sonnet, which is a terrible burden because history is so full of horror. How do you “make it new” when the sonnet is telling you to “make it old”? I studied a lot of sonnets before I started writing them—Claude McKay, Shakespeare, Ted Berrigan, Bernadette Mayer, Ron Padgett—I tried to read as many as I could to internalize the “moves” of the sonnet. I’m not just talking about the technical aspects of the form such as the volta in an Italian sonnet, or the couplet at the end of an English sonnet but I tried to think about how Shakespeare takes you from “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” at the beginning of his sonnet to the word “kings” at the very end. How many times does he use the word “state” in that sonnet and why does he keep playing on this word? So, I think some aspects of the sonnet that are important are 1. momentum 2. play and 3. rhetorical argument, and the poet has a very small space to handle all of these elements within a kind of template or pattern that history has already created. If you move too far away from this template, it’s not a sonnet. If you stay within the template and don’t deviate, it’s not a sonnet. What do you do? Nobody knows the exact answer.

KO: Both Mother Was a Tragic Girl and House of Ions contain a number of poems that engage in the mundane, the everyday of domestic life—a distinct “I” immersed in Chinese food, diapers, sex, Sponge Bob, grocery shopping, plastic dinosaurs, lusting after the cashier, writing, breastfeeding, yoga. Yet they don't stay there. A poem that starts with a dirty diaper might end in mind-blowing contemplation of the complexities of nature. Perhaps it is more accurate to say the poems launch out of the mundane into some other fantastic sphere that is packed with history, science, nature, politics, the body, and more. This is all a very long way of asking, how do you view the role of the domestic in your work? Are there topics or things that are taboo for you in regards to your writing?

SS: On some basic level, I use the material conditions of my life (both of my past and present) as a basis for my poetry and this, in itself, is a kind of politics. I am interested in certain kinds of motherhood—the motherhood of many of my students who are the working poor trying to go to school to make their lives better. I’m interested in the single-motherhood of my own mother, who struggled economically to raise my sister and I—I want to think about what it was like to have been raised this way. What did I learn about property, about renting about property relations, about class-consciousness from my experiences? I’m interested in the motherhood of working people because I’m interested in working conditions in general. I want to think about what it means to be a mother in the early 21st century inside capitalism with very few social structures to help us survive—what do we give up (in art) by having children? What do we gain?  I was at dinner with some poets in New York a few months ago, and I was predictably complaining about the difficulties of writing as a full-time academic, and one of the poets at the table said “but because you have so much to do, it must make your writing more urgent.” Maybe, but I would also like the time and space to write. Even though I write about these issues, I don’t want to give up joy and the fantastic in a poem. I love that a poem can start with cleaning up a diaper and end up at the bottom of the ocean or in some remote corner of a spiraling galaxy. Why not?


Click here to read an interview with Sandra at Boston Review
Poems - Bio - Review - Interviews - Reading
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Sandra Simonds

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