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Last night I watched Beverly Hills Chihuahua Two with my four year old daughter and 7 year old son. The kids taught me the points in the movie I was supposed to laugh. If you have never seen this movie, the dogs talk and there is a voice over for each dog, and as the human voice talks, the dog’s mouth opens and closes, so as to mimic a human while talking. In the middle of the movie, right when the Chihuahuas are plotting to save their owner’s parents’ house from bank repossession, I fell asleep. As long as I have been old enough to understand what the middle class is, it has been described as “shrinking.” I imagine it is much easier to fall out of the middle class as opposed to rising from the middle class to the upper class. The middle class family in Beverly Hills Chihuahua Two is in a free fall out of the middle class and they are trying to save themselves. In one scene, they visit the bank which threatens to repossess the house. The banker says to the middle class family that unless the family gives the bank $40,000 within three weeks, the family will need to leave their property. To make the bank look extra cruel, the banker offers the family a free pen on their way out—I believe with a happy face erasure on the top. When a text starts in the middle, we call it “in medias res”; when I think of the word “middle,” for some reason, it makes me think of the word “mediation.” When two parties get divorced, they often end up “in mediation,” and if things go well in the negotiations, they receive a “mediated settlement agreement.” When I wake up, Beverly Hills Chihuahua Two is still on, each kid at my side on the sofa, and I realize it’s in fact the very rich character, “Aunt Viv” (no relation to the middle class family) who saves the middle class family from ruin, not the well-intentioned “human dogs” who think that entering and winning the $50,000 grand prize at the Beverley Hills Dog Show might save the family. They don’t win because they are not pure bred Chihuahuas, something they could have known before they entered. Because the aristocracy intervenes in the drama, the only thing that the dogs can do is praise the goodness of the rich “Aunt Viv,” ie there is no sense that it’s the aristocracy that got the family there in the first place and the movie ends with a marriage between the middle class son and Aunt Viv’s aristocratic niece. It’s a comedy, after all. Yesterday, I received a box of books from my future publisher, Wave Books. One of the books is a collection of interviews from the Poetry Project Newsletter called “What is Poetry? Just Kidding, I know You Know). I was really excited to read this book, so I began to read through some of the interviews.... Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
I don’t really remember a lot from yesterday. Most­­­­ly, I remember some of the messages I sent and got. I got an email that was titled “The Desert.” I opened it, but it was addressed “Dear Friends.” Normally, I would delete an email that was addressed to “Dear Friends,” but I decided to read it since I had such limited access to the world of the internet. It appeared to be an invitation to go to a writing conference or gathering or something in Joshua Tree in California in April. Of course, there was no way that I could go to “the desert” this April because I’m a single mom and teach five classes a semester and I live in the deep south. Also, my son currently has hand, foot and mouth disease, so I had to take care of him today, which made this feeling of “of course I could never do something like this” worse. I proceeded to read through the email. The part that struck me the most was in the body of the email where the people who sent it wrote, “What are we willing to change about our approaches to the mundane in order to alter that numbed consciousness—and can we usher in a time when the innovation within the arts in this country is less about how we can commodify our gifts and more about how we can use them to fight commodification in our daily lives? Are we truly courageous souls? Can we learn how to say ‘not for sale’….” The email went on. I wondered, of course, how many people this email had been sent to? 10? 20? 50? I wondered if someone who sent the email to “Dear Friends” would have seriously want to know the answers to these questions, or the material and labor conditions that would limit access to this kind of conference or gathering. It seemed strange. I’m not trying to disparage the people who sent the email. I am, though, trying to show you the mind frame I was in. As I said, normally, I would have probably deleted an email with the subject of “the desert” and I definitely would not have read through an entire email addressed to “Dear Friends,” because of the generic and impersonal nature of the address, but reading through the email made me feel more alone and alienated than I had in the previous three days and I thought it was ironic that a well-intentioned email aimed at pulling post-election poets and writers together for a nice gathering had become so irritating. The other communication that struck me should have made me feel a lot better about myself and less lonely. My friend Natalie Eilbert, who I sent a pdf of my latest book to, (by the way, you should read her poetry!) messaged me to say it was “brilliant.” My friend Brian Blanchfield texted me to say that he had loved the poem I texted him a few days before... Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
I think that today was marked by extreme feelings of anxiety and shame. I posted yesterday’s post to the Best American Poetry blog in the morning around 8am or 9am today and then linked the post to both my Facebook and Twitter accounts but quickly realized that because of my rules, there was no way to know if anyone liked it, if anyone read it or to check in on “how it was doing.” The anxiety started right after I posted it to social media. I wanted feedback and reassurance and suddenly felt extremely vulnerable. It occurred to me, after all, that one of my Facebook “friends” could say something disparaging about my writing and there would be nothing that I could do about it. Normally, if I was letting myself use Facebook, I would quickly delete a rude comment and maybe go into a short diatribe about trolls. This fact leads me to yet another aspect of social media, being a woman and social media labor. The amount of extra work that I have to do deleting comments from men who harass me online, blocking trolls, receiving their unwanted messages on multiple platforms is actually a lot of work. It’s not something that we often think about in terms of what goes into maintaining an online presence, but it’s certainly real labor and extra labor for women. In any case, as I left my house for work in the morning, I was already feeling insecure. I live in Florida but I work in South Georgia, so it takes me a good 45 minutes to get to work. Of course, I left my cell phone behind at home, following my rules. The strange thing is that I really wanted to get to work as quickly as possible and get in front of my computer even though I knew cognitively that all of the old “rewards” for doing so would be absent. No one was going to “like” anything and even if they did, I wouldn’t be able to see it; I wasn’t going to be able to read outrageous news about the Trump administration. Having fired my employers (CNN, Facebook and Twitter, Politico, even DemocracyNow and a million other websites), there was literally no reason to rush to work at all. After all, I had finished my grading yesterday at Panera in no time. When I got to work, I did something that I ordinarily don’t do: I read every work email that came in. To be honest, I usually ignore a lot of nonstudent work emails that don’t seem important at the moment and then read them later. But, since my rule was only to check my personal email twice a day, I figured might as well read each and every work email right now. To my horror, I opened the work email called “TU Announcements,” and found a link to the Best American Poetry Blog that I had posted just hours before. Normally, I would be getting all... Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
A. Introduction to my experiment B. Reflection on Sunday 2/ 19, Day One I like formal writing experiments. A few weeks ago, I was a guest poet at Wayne State University in Detroit and I talked to the creative writing class I was visiting about how I wrote my poem, “The Lake Ella Variations” from my book Steal it Back. I told the class that every day for a few weeks, I would walk around Lake Ella in Tallahassee and listen to people and observe them. I explained to the class that when I got back home, I would jot down the things I remembered from my walk. The things that I overheard eventually made their way into the poem. In my walks around Lake Ella, I certainly found some gems…. I mean I witnessed a mom asking her kid if he was going to feed the Chicken Nuggets he was holding to the ducks. You can’t make that shit up. In the creative writing class, I turned to Barrett Watten, the professor who invited me and said, “Poets have to be good at observing things, right? In that sense, we would probably make good spies, don’t you think?” I think he agreed. I was going to blog for a week about political poetry and the protest movement, something I feel at this point I know a lot about, but honestly, I just need a break. I need time to think. Last week in DC for AWP, I stayed with my friend Chris. One night, talking to my friend, the poet Brian Blanchfield, who was also staying with Chris, Brian described the writing experiment that went into composing his incredible book Proxies. He said that to write the book (a collection of essays, not poems), he didn’t use the internet. He relied on memory and intuition. I found it intriguing that the absence of the internet, the negating of online information, could become freeing, a source of imaginative space. Another poet friend I was talking to a few months ago about trying to re-create the conditions of writing from over a decade ago for his Creative Writing students. I’m not sure what the rules were for his class, but I think that the students were not allowed to just immediately share what they wrote via social media. They had to wait. They had to be patient. It seemed like my friends were converging on a common need and longing, not to go back in time, but maybe we were all a little nostalgic for the early conditions of the writing life. Until I was into my late twenties, I really didn’t know that many poets. I shared almost none of my work. My first experience with a writing community was definitely blogs on the internet. I remember in my MFA years at the University of Montana, my boyfriend, who was also a poet, coming home and saying “Hey Sand, I’m going to start a blog.” “What’s a blog?” I replied.... Continue reading
Posted Feb 20, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Speaking with Marie Buck, Jennifer Scappettone, Guillermo Parra, Daniel Borzutzky and Johannes Göransson There’s a sense that I get that American poets seem to only like to read other American poets? Am I wrong about this, right? Why is it important to read poetry in translation, or is it? Guillermo Parra: When I think back on my own education as a poet, from approximately 1988 onwards, translation was there from the very beginning, with Stephen Mitchell’s translations of Rilke, Louise Varese’s Rimbaud (a particularly important event in my life, her translations still resonate with me today on a very personal level) and Eliot Weinberger’s Paz (though I was reading Paz in both English and Spanish, it was Weinberger’s amazing translations that probably made me think translation was something normal and everyday, since jumping back & forth between the two on facing pages I thought of them, at the time, as a young undergraduate, as equivalents, equals). It’s extremely important to read poetry in translation, especially for North American poets because it helps us open our eyes to the world. I do notice that quite a few North American poets are woefully unaware of large swaths of poetry throughout the world. Of course, that’s a privilege that North American poets alone have, the luxury of not having to think about the rest of the world. Because I’m Venezuelan-American, and I grew up both in the U.S. and Venezuela, I’m particularly interested in Latin American poetry, and we all know Latin American poetry remains quite invisible or non-existent for most North American poets. Aside from several big names, such as Neruda or Paz. But this invisibility, while it does frustrate me, tends to just motivate me more, it pushes me to work harder at my translations of Venezuelan (and a handful of Peruvian) poets at my blog and in magazines & books. Marie Buck: I do feel like the conversation is more U.S.-centric than it ought to be. It makes sense to read literature in translation—why limit yourself? It also seems like we can ask very different questions if we’re reading across cultural contexts. How do writers across the world respond to a specific series of events like the financial crisis or Occupy? What are the different ways that enunciation and subjectivity can work in poetry? How does self-reference work in poems? For instance, Ben Fama’s “June Emotional Poem” (, which I read the other day, ends with “this sounds like / a poor man’s ‘Ben Fama’ poem / but I am a poor man”. The ending self-reference reminded me of the ghazal form, and of Ghalib’s poems, and of Agha Shahid Ali’s use of the form (though I don’t know much of Ali’s work, actually). I’m a total sucker for this gesture—I love the ending self-reference. So now I am wondering where else similar gestures occur, how they work differently or similarly in poems across time and language and culture. I have to admit that I am pretty American-centric in my... Continue reading
Posted Jun 26, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Shouldn't you be on Reddit?
Letter to a Young Nonprivileged Poet: Sometimes younger poets come to me and they want to know how to get his or her voice out there in poetry. I’m not sure why they ask me, but whatever. I’ll take it for what it is. Let me first say, if you are a rich poet or poet who went to an Ivy League school or probably both, or a tenured white male professor, stop reading now. This post isn’t for you. There are tons of resources out there for you and this is not one of them. This post is for ordinary poets, poor poets, adjuncts, and other people who don’t have the means, resources and connections in the poetry world and are struggling to get their voice heard. I totally get it and I want to help you! First of all, you have to understand a very basic truth: the poetry world is full of rich white poets and being rich and white, having rich white parents, and having connections is a major reason poets become successful. More money, less problems. More white, less problems. So, try to understand this and get that. Let’s say it together: rich white poets are far more likely to become successful poets. That is just the history of poetry and it hasn’t changed much. If you are a POC who isn’t rich, you have even more of a hurdle, obviously. So, what to do? Here are some tips to help you: My first tip is to make a community and stop sucking up to authority figures and gatekeepers in poetry to try to get poetry favors because this doesn’t do anything for your poetry and is mostly a waste of time. Why? Authority figures and gatekeepers will almost always favor white males and people who have resources to begin with. STOP DOING THIS. Let me tell you a story. I have been living in Tallahassee for a decade because I went to PhD school here at Florida State University and I cannot tell you the number of students who go through the PhD program spending their entire five years sucking up to creative writing professors they think are going to get them book deals. This is a terrible method, my friends, and a waste of your time! From what I have observed, some students did get book deals from the connections that these professors had but the students who did were….wait for it….white males! Surprise! Don’t make this mistake. Let’s review: Your professor is more than likely not going to get you a book deal and probably thinks you are annoying for asking because he/ she has more important things to do like relishing in the fact that he/ she has a tenure track job teaching in an MFA / PhD program when the academic job market is literally collapsing at his / her feet. This professor is probably clueless as hell to his/ her class position and the fact that you are probably... Continue reading
Posted Jun 24, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
I decided I would become a philosophy major in college because philosophy meant being smart. Now, I knew nothing about philosophy save for the modest amounts of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre I found on my mother’s bookshelves at home. I was a seventeen year old French Existentialist, just like all of my other nerdy friends and yes, I wore all black every day and smoked cigarettes outside of the town 7-11. But when I got to UCLA, when I took my first philosophy class, not only did I not understand very much of what they were talking about (okay, yeah, I was stoned a lot, but it was college and I did just fine in my poetry workshops, so what was the deal????). All I remember was an ethics class where the male graduate teaching assistant asked us hypothetical questions like if we were on a boat and the boat was going to sink and everyone on the boat was going to die unless you did x,y,z do you save one person or the entire boat given these certain conditions blah blah blah and I knew right then I didn’t care. Plus, during our final exam, these male graduate students sat at the front of the auditorium indifferently playing chess. This is what philosophers do, I thought. They sit and play chess and could care less about our personal pain and feelings. I also remember feeling really stupid, like even before I could answer the questions on my final, I just felt dumb. Philosophy was “objective” and I, as a person, sure as hell wasn’t. I was emotional and messy and now I felt intimidated and self-conscious about that and I was never, ever going to know the "right" answer about that damned sinking boat. Fast-forward to 2003. I’m done with my MFA and living in San Francisco and I have a boyfriend who reads a lot of Alain Badiou so I’m like okayyyyyyy, I should read Alain Badiou and so I start reading him and I’m like what is going on here? It’s not that I don’t understand some of what Badiou is saying, but I just feel deep down I can’t relate to it and it makes me feel hysterical because reading Badiou brings back all of the old feelings I had as an undergrad. Not only do I feel dumb, but now I felt like a dumb, emotional, girl. Fast-fast-forward to about six months ago. I find this piece of writing, “Poetry and Communism,” in the new issue of Lana Turner written by non other than Alain Badiou! Here’s the first line of the piece, “In the last century, some truly great poets, in almost all languages on earth, have been communists.” Alright, Alain, I’m with you. I’m a communist. I’m a poet. I think, this is great, a philosopher is writing about communist poets. Then he goes on to name these truly great communist poets, and my heart sinks-- none of the poets he lists... Continue reading
Posted Jun 23, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Some Notes On Confession (Part One) Why is it that we can say things in poems that we can’t say in real life? I’ll admit, poems have gotten me into a lot of trouble and I suspect some of the poems I have written are behind a number of broken friendships and broken relationships—okay, just broken everything. But I’m not a confessional poet! Never have been. Still, I’ve told the same truth in many poems that I couldn’t tell people in real life. Probably, in real life, I’m just a coward and in poetry, I’m braver. But why? Poetry can function like a dark and creepy confession booth but at the same time, you don’t really have to be sorry, you don’t have to feel bad. You can tell the story and walk away. Inevitably, after I give a poetry reading, someone will come up to me and ask, “but is that true? Did that really happen? Well, maybe. And I’ve had the same questions after reading the poems of my close friends who are poets. I think to myself “Becky never told me this juicy bit of information that she’s now revealing in her poem…was it real? Was it true?” Because unlike fiction, people inevitably assume that the speaker in a poem is the writer. I do it. I’m sure that you do it too. And poets can use this blurry line to their advantage. Last year, a few of my students got a hold of one of my poetry books at the university library where I work. One of them stopped me and said “Dr. Simonds, do you really think about killing yourself every day?” I was taken aback. I had written this in one of my poems. “I do and I don’t,” I told her. I mean I did write a poem called “Poetry Is Stupid and I Want To Die,” so it must mean that sometimes I feel this way. It happened and it didn’t. Maybe and maybe not. This is at least part of the story of poetry—it kind of happened that way sort of. We write poems to make stories out of our histories, and then we go on to believe the stories we tell and tell them again and again. Sure, poets are liars but they are also really, really good ones. But enough about me. I’ve been reading some recent books by younger contemporary poets who work with aspects of confession, expanding the parameters around the discourse of the self, on their own feminist terms, but who also have only a tangential aesthetic relationship with the confessional school of poetry we associate with poets like Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell. These poets see the self as an a priori construct of language, history, patriarchy and capital, and so what emerges from these conceptual understandings of confession is a kind of play, not only of language but also of ethics and values that work to disrupt the oppressive structures of their... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Jun 22, 2015