In this richly imagined collection of poems, Michael Simms draws inspiration from history, psychology, biology, and astronomy, yet at heart he is simply a man with stories to tell. A poet returns home from the funeral of his parents to find that the language of grief is inadequate to describe his complicated relationship with his father, so he invents new words to describe his feelings. An autistic boy on a family vacation to Carlsbad Caverns descends deep into the earth, and breathing the darkness, he becomes a bat. A high school performance of Euripides’s The Trojan Women becomes a terrifying prediction of what will happen to one of the girls after graduation. A conversation between two old men about Schubert’s Death and the Maiden recalls accusations of sexual harassment one of the men faces. And in a humorous ars poetica, Simms dreams of kidnapping Charles Bukowski and spiriting him to an AA meeting where Buk slings insults, jumps out the window and flies to the nearest bar on black wings, leading Simms to realize that American poetry needs its misfits and outlaws, and in fact, he prefers poems with a little dirt on them.
Simms is a poet who writes as easily about the microfauna in a compost bin as about the complexities of love. He explains the hermeneutics of suspicion as adroitly as a visit to a dog park. He describes an old couple at the seashore through the eyes of an artist drawing them and the climate crises from the perspective of a bronze age king watching his city crumble. Gifted, smart, and flawed, frank about his alcoholism and other personal failings, Simms gives us poems that twist and turn and yet always remain clear in their intent. His empathy is all-embracing, and he challenges the reader’s expectations by elegantly expressing abstract ideas through wildly creative, wholly original imagery. These poems keep returning to their central concern of how love can endure in a world that is collapsing. In language both musical and vernacular, Simms raises personal ancecdote to the level of legend.
Praise for Nightjar
The lines of Michael Simms’ Nightjar are deceptively relaxed, as if you are being invited into his house: “It was one of those April snows/we used to get in Pittsburgh/before America went to hell;” words a sane person with a heart might say but pitched intimately as poetry. Like William Stafford he can write an apparently plain line that reveals its longing as an after effect: “the darkness inside me/would merge with//the darkness of the world.” A great book to hang out with all weekend and then start over again. - Doug Anderson, author of Horse Medicine
This powerful collection offers personal and global truths that are hard to say out loud; one poem even helpfully coins the words we need. But all the words deployed by Michael Simms are honest and urgent. “The Ruins,” “Flood and Fire,” and the title poem recall the darkly vatic voice of Brecht’s late lyrics. Yet, Simms always sounds like himself: plainspoken, intimate, vulnerable, courageous. Both heartening and heartbreaking, Nightjar is an irreplaceable book. - Rachel Hadas, author of Love and Dread
Beginning in the dirty realism of a working-class neighborhood and the misery of addicts, the collection traces one man’s raw, funny and poignant evolution to maturity and acceptance. The poems range widely in style and use a broad diction that includes the slang of the streets and the tender language of love, as well as concepts of history, politics and science, to create a riff on what it is to be alive in a time which may very well be “the end of civilization as we know it.” Simms weaves highly personal stories about his sister’s suicide, his own struggle with addiction, and the joy of finding love and a spiritual path against a background of the desperate politics of our time: perpetual war, the decay of urban life, and the encroaching chaos caused by our violation of nature. Populated by addicts, alcoholics, policemen, soldiers, veterans, carpenters, Peace Corps volunteers, African villagers, children, orphans, scientists, dogs, teachers, leftist nuns, refugees, torturers and saints, the poems evoke the primal and the sublime, the everyday and the metaphysical. In the world revealed in this collection, Gracie Allen, Richard Feynman and Moondog show us the path to enlightenment. “Being ordinary,” the poet says, “makes you a hero.”
At times playful and other times dead serious, Simms pushes the limits of what a book of poetry can do. With linguistic dexterity, he captures the syncopated rhythms of American speech recording one man’s journey from childhood abuse and addiction to a spiritually enlightened vision of life in all its absurd complexity. With a compassionate eye for the troubled and the ridiculous, Simms speaks to the deepest longings and strangest predilections of the human experience. Intense yet forgiving, this is a tough, unrelenting voice touched by grace.
Praise for American Ash
In a Beat-like voice that’s spontaneous, raw, and irrepressible, Michael Simms writes with the courage of a witness and the wisdom of a survivor. These poems leap, lament, pierce, transcend, delve, witness, praise, and testify to the curative power of poetry. - Chard deNiord, author of In My Unknowing
The work in American Ash presses us into terror, fury, forgiveness, almost in the same breath. The ability to inhabit the self so fully, to transmit this delicate, difficult knowledge of our holy imperfections—this is a rare and tender skill. The poems wrestle with ugliness and anger; they denounce cruelty; they are frightened and remorseful; and yet they rise, again and again, to simple joy. - Dawn Potter, author of Same Old Story
Simms embraces a full humanity, writing what James Wright called “the poetry of a grown man” in a language that has fully absorbed the American poetic tradition from Whitman to Vallejo to Wright to Rich. What I admire most is Simms’s truthfulness, his unflinching journey through life, wounded but healed. This poet has “looked/into the darkness/and survived.” - Philip Terman, author of Our Portion
Simms understands that any truth that’s worthy of the name can be both brutal and beautiful. Indeed, there’s a beauty here that can bring you to the edge of being too much to bear; but, perhaps more importantly, there’s also a kindness powerful enough to cast grand shadows over the roughest of days. - Jose Padua, author of A Short History of Monsters