02-02-2016

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

Alice, 
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

 
Occupying

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

BIO: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.

 

A Mini-Review of Ron Slate's poems "To the One Who Hears Me" and "Cocoanut Grove" by Contributing Editor Zach Macholz

After the resounding success of his first collection, The Incentive of the Maggot (Mariner Books, 2005)-which included the Bakeless Prize, the Larry Levis Prize, and nominations for the National Book Critics Circle poetry prize and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize of the Academy of American Poets-perhaps few contemporary poets' second books have been as highly anticipated as Slate's second collection of poems, The Great Wave (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). Our featured poems this week, "To the One Who Hears Me," and "Cocoanut Grove," demonstrate Slate's remarkable talent for blending past with present and telling stories in a way that blurs the line between the interior self and outside world.

The first poem, "To the One Who Hears Me," is the opening poem of the collection. Comprised of eight quatrains, the poem features a speaker who moves between being told a story, reflecting on that story, and commenting on the story in conversation with a second person, likely the reader, as happens in the second stanza:

     Now I have hustled you to this other spot
     without even a cup of coffee to offer
     nor for that matter to take you
     into my confidence.

Though the first stanza teases us with his friend's "secret," which included "Grand theft, drug dealing, a year on Rikers Island," that story is not what is remarkable in the poem. While a white man in a suit "selling crack out of a red Saab / with the top down three blocks north / of MLK Boulevard" is certainly an intriguing tale, what's remarkable here is the speaker's ability to listen, truly and deeply, as his friend tells the story, to pick up on the subtext of the conversation: "He was saying: Make use of me, / all my skills are now at your disposal."

This ability to become the intermediary between the poem's subject and its reader is so fluid that the poem demands multiple readings-not because the movement is in any way confusing, but because it can only be properly appreciated after some consideration. The poem's final two lines-"Just as I am speaking to you now, / not exactly waiting for your reply"- are, in combination with the second stanza and penultimate stanza, a thought-provoking exploration of the relationship between the poet-speaker, the story he tells, and the reader.

If the speaker's direct address to the reader is what most intrigues about this poem, it's the poem's syntactical line breaks and subtle use of sound that carry it along. Consider the second stanza above: the consonance of "have hustled" and "cup of coffee" are balanced by the assonance of "other spot," "coffee," and "offer." The poem's pacing is even and deliberate, giving the poem a softness that mimics the intimacy present in the speaker's voice and the speaker's act of listening to his friend.

In "Cocoanut Grove," the poet tells the story of his paternal grandmother's death in the infamous 1942 fire that destroyed the nightclub of the same name and claimed the lives of almost five hundred people. Again, this poem plays with and comments on memory and the telling of stories:

     How compelling for a family
     to have such a story to relate.
     Nothing would be the way it is.
     To speak of a desirable world,
     the listening boy leaning in.

The poem's other stanzas-mostly five lines, but some four or six in length-move between three temporal settings: the speaker's recollection of his childhood conversation with his father; the night of the fire itself, particularly through photographs; and the speaker's present, from which he reflects on the other two. Again, these transitions are made smooth by the largely syntactical line breaks and the neatly compartmentalized stanzas.

While there is, again, subtle sound at work in this poem, "Cocoanut Grove's," real poetic genius lies in the masterful turns of phrase and rich figurative language that is interwoven among the more straightforward narrative details. One such moment opens the poem: "My life began with the fire, / glimmering in the birthwaters' and, later, "The nightclub burned in minutes, / in 1942, with a sibilant exhalation." Perhaps the most beautiful moment in the poem, language wise, is the metaphor of the fire hose:

     Corrosive worm of remembrance,
     allure of the lurid past,
     the nozzle's snout regressing
     down the smoldering street.

Here, as he does throughout the poem and the collection, Slate successfully intermingles past and present in a way that emphasizes how closely they are linked- indeed, how they are at times indecipherable from one another.

Ron Slate's second collection, The Great Wave, offers poems that, like the two featured poems this week, explore and sometimes dull the lines between past and present, that often tell a story within a story or are in some way reflective, and that balance relatively straightforward line breaks and syntactical structures with language rich in metaphor, simile, near-rhyme, and alliteration. It is a compelling and substantive follow-up to one of the most heralded debut collections in recent memory, and leaves us waiting, perhaps somewhat impatiently, for his next book.