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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Contributor Spotlight: Sandra Simonds

When I was a baby poet, I would spend hours reading the two volume set of the Norton Anthology of English Literature. I still have the volumes. Between the red covers of those books, in college, I wrote notes and scribbled little pictures (look at the swans, and goblins and flowers!) beside every poem, every play. At the time, it seemed like the pinnacle of poetic achievement would to one day be included in this anthology, and that to enter into it as a poet would simultaneously mean that one had been legitimized and that one had also entered into history itself, even if you only had one lousy, thin page devoted to your poem.

The poet is always a little bit outside of history, even if her verse becomes embalmed in an anthology and the older she gets, the more she sees that the historical narrative of these volumes, the history of poetry, is not only being written in her very lifetime, but that it had, in fact, been written before she was born, through forces completely beyond her control: how she tumbled into this world, into this body, a female body after all, and that there were other factors that would determine the little variations and line structures and rhymes and rhythms of her poems—her class, race, childhood and so on.

At some point after college, and after I got my MFA, I began to read the anthologies through the lens of the writers who had been left out. I realized that they were not untalented but rather, unlucky. My world filled with problems! One doesn’t want to be included in the pages after all—look at all the murder, the wars, the lies and so on. The anthology began to look more like a morgue than a castle.

On the one hand, the history of poetry is the story of memorializing war and sucking up to kings and queens. It is Hannibal crossing the Alps with all those elephants, Washington crossing the Delaware, Mary Antoinette’s little royal head rolling off (good god, I hope they saved that amazing blue dress of hers) but it is also waves and waves of common people doing common things. Slaves. Workers. It’s people doing data entry, fixing cars, the mother who places a dollar under the pillow of her child, the child who is convinced the magical tooth fairy made her visit in the night. The little boy who wakes up triumphant! A dollar!

History also is the accumulation of the smallest things—scrambling eggs for your kids, buying car seats, taking them to school, entering data into a computer. At every moment we are at the end of history which is the very consciousness that we must break through because if we think in this way, it will always be the landlord extorting money from his tenant, always the employer extracting money from his employee. We need a narrative but it must be new.

History and her ghosts and demons are splashing all around us, either encasing us like a piece of art in a museum or ignoring us completely. Here is my little fantasy! We enter the art museum with all of our crying infants and snotty little toddlers, and elderly parents cross the red, velvet rope that tells us that we are on one side of history and royalty is on another and burn Louis XVI’s throne. In fact, let’s save his throne by throwing it into the fire, and why not throw in a few Norton Anthologies as well (of course, we will have to rip out the pages of Blake and all my accompanying doodles!), and maybe a few Monsanto CEOs? Let’s do this so that we can restore some historical memory and have a little time to write poetry after we make breakfast for our kids in the morning.


Sandra Simonds grew up in Los Angeles, California, and earned a BA in Psychology and Creative Writing at UCLA and an MFA from the University of Montana, where she received a poetry fellowship. In 2010, Simonds received a PhD in Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Florida State University. She is the author of four full-length collections of poetry: The Glass Box (Saturnalia Books, 2015), The Sonnets (Bloof Books, 2014), Mother was a Tragic Girl (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2012) and Warsaw Bikini (Bloof Books, 2009) which was a finalist for numerous prizes including the National Poetry Series. She is also the author of several chapbooks including Used White Wife (Grey Book Press, 2009) and The Humble Travelogues of Mr. Ian Worthington, Written from Land & Sea (Cy Gist, 2006). Simonds’ poems have been published in many journals such as Poetry, American Poetry Review, The Believer, the Colorado Review, Fence, the Columbia Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Volt, the New Orleans Review and Lana Turner. Her Creative Nonfiction has been published in Post Road and other literary journals. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida and is Assistant Professor of English at Thomas University in beautiful, rural Southern Georgia. Her poem "The End of History is Just Music at the Papal Courts" can be found in HFR53.

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