01 October 2009

Used White Wife by Sandra Simonds

Review by Valerie Wetlaufer
 
Used White Wife 
By Sandra Simonds
Grey Book Press
Staple-Bound Chapbook, 23 pages

Link to purchase

Sandra Simonds is a wry and inventive poet, telling us in the first line of this chapbook, “It is absolutely unnecessary to write serious poetry.” The book is full of similar declarations, with poems titled “My Lyric Sensibility is Gone,” and “Any Title Will Do.” These poems don’t take themselves too seriously, but you should. Employing a vocabulary scientific, lyric and political, Simonds delights us with the juxtaposition of Lacan, Mao Zedong, Alaska, Moscow and the Eiffel Tower, taking the foreign and making it familiar.

In the poem “I Hate My Life,” the speaker watches her mirror crack, dividing her reflection into “a self game of / polyhedral tremors.” The different selves contain “a Zanzibar of brain shivers / cut with Xan-/ax” and jokes about “a life lacking cliffhangers,” but each line is a cliffhanger, fragmented, often broken off in the middle of a line, to add to the jarring effect of her unexpected subject matter. 

Each poem contains elements of the sardonic and self-effacing. “All the stories // I’ve ever told are drafts/ to bigger lies so I’m giving up,” the speaker declares in “Any Title Will Do.” 

In the poem “Skyhook,” we encounter gender-bending, bodily functions, celebrities as secret identities, famous poets and philosophers in one audacious, funny, and irreverent poem:
Today I lost my mucus plug
which is funny since I’m
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and didn’t expect
to get pregnant in the first
place. Here are some
facts about me you should probably
know before you start sending
my soon-to-be-born child X-mas
presents. My real name is
Geraldine Ferraro and Geraldine
is the woman who got me
pregnant at the Cleveland Clinic.
Only in a Simonds poem could all these elements co-mingle. We do not inhabit a fixed place in this book, but travel continents, centuries, at times chillingly personal, then, suddenly, surreal, as in “Your Own Winnebago:”
There’s a volcano in my Alaska, a Paris
       in my mesa and the bulldog
at the wheel who looks at me with her awful
eyes says “Sandra, there’s no time for
     a vinyasa, so skedaddle,” and in
dog paddling to the Eiffel Tower I see
the shenanigans of topography…
“there’s a crater in my Moscow, a hickey
     on my Himalaya, a quicksand pit
on my 9th Tokyo, a Yucatan on this meteor impact
more idiotic than the Patriot Act, more
     ants in your pants than Shay’s Rebellion.
I am most struck by the sense of possibility offered in these poems. So frequently we hear what poetry is and is not, but Simonds offers us a new option: Who cares? Anything can be poetry; hers is an expansive approach that elevates the mundane and obscene. The velocity of each line allows for so much inclusiveness; “so drop a few / bouillon cubes in this verb // brimming stew and call it antsy petroleum, / the new gold!” (“Your Own Winnebago”).

What is it like to find yourself reading a poem from Used White Wife? It is like whitewater rafting without a paddle, holding on and trusting that each stanza brings you closer to a place you never knew you were heading, but where you are delighted to arrive.

***

Valerie Wetlaufer is a PhD student and Vice-Presidential Fellow at the University of Utah. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in La Fovea, Melusine, Word Riot, Poemmemoirstory and Bloom. You can find her online here.