Well, here we are: my fifty-second poet. I did it! And what a journey it’s been. But I’ll save all that for another post, and concentrate instead on this, my last collection.
I picked up Sunday at the Skin Launderette on the last day of 2008, and read it over a rather miserable new year’s eve/day. Wonderful. I can’t imagine a better collection to end the year on. Once again it was a chance encounter, as it were; I’d never heard of Simmonds before, and was simply looking in the bookshop for that last book. I was intrigued by the title, the cover, the commendations on the front (shortlistings for various prizes) and the blurb on the back, which included this: ‘This is a poetry of subtle contexts and allusions, as much concerned with the vulnerability of the body as for the fate of the soul and the idea of “keeping faith” in God and life.’ A quick flick through convinced me I was going to like it.
And I did – a lot. From the generous invitation to ‘Lie down with me… and rest’ of the first poem, ‘The World Won’t Miss You for a While’, to the account of a first date and its possibilities opening out – ‘there will be other things to laugh about’ – of the last poem, ‘The Road to Persia’, I was totally captivated. Reading the collection was like crawling under a duvet with the author, having your hair stroked, being made to laugh, and being encouraged and reminded that the world is a beautiful, if sometimes sad and confusing, place (and believe me, I needed that over the 31st/1st). We’ll return to the duvet in a bit.
The back of the book also says that the collection is ‘quietly persuasive and formally adept’, and I loved it for those qualities. Every page had a new revelation that was wise, witty and optimistic (without being glib), and I love Simmonds’ style. She deals absolutely with the stuff of life – fishmongers, talking to yourself, ghosts, recycling, worrying yourself to death, foreign affairs – it felt like a really beautiful, charged look at the everyday and the ordinary. Some are hilarious – ‘What Not to Do with Your Day’ and ‘Experimental Concert’, for example; some deal with faith, or unfaith – ‘Whittington’s Mistake’ and ‘Transfiguration’. All are precise and human and gently uplifting.
Have I gushed enough yet? Honestly, I almost feel as though this book found me, was written to me, and I was greatly encouraged by it. There aren’t many books that really do that to you, but this was one of them. It’s her first full-length collection and I’m already looking forward to the next.
Please, if you like poetry at all, or in fact even if you don’t – especially if you don’t? – get hold of this. It was the perfect end to this year’s reading and just right for the time of year, too.
Favourites are almost too many to mention because they’re practically every poem in the collection. But the ones I scribbled down were ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’, Women Dancing’, ‘Precautionary Poem’, ‘Winter Morning’, ‘Against Melancholy’, ‘Eyelids’ and ‘Shoestring Dialogues’.
Because it’s the last proper post and the last collection, I’m going to post up two poems. I hope Simmonds doesn’t mind too much. I think they’re both appropriate for right now: one for the dawning of a new year; one for the current situation in Gaza and beyond. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
(for Eva Sharkey)
What you know, are the only things worth knowing,
you, who give yourself whole
into the arms of strangers,
unafraid of meeting their eyes.
You who ponder your findings,
serene as a pope on your blue changing mat.
Teach us not to care about causing a fuss,
teach us to eat when we’re hungry,
to be ambivalent to fashion, to bear no grudges,
and to love without restraint
this yellow leaf, this face, this universe
composed of passing colours, temporary shapes.
I can’t keep awake these days. AS soon as I get home I’m underneath
the eiderdown, dozing in my tights, the radio announcer shrinking to an insect
buzzing with the news of war. If only I could let the politicians into bed
with me they might be pacified, inhale my unwashed pillowslip and milky breath,
close their eyes against the amber stencil of the window frame. The Foreign
Secretary could form a spoon and tuck his knees into the opposition’s flank,
Mr President relax his grip and rest a hand there on a Middle Eastern hip.
Together we might chat in whispers of our days, interpreters translating softly
into open ears: that conference in Karachi that went on and on, crisis talks
in Belfast and New York. I’ll tell of how in Norwich I unclogged the photocopier
again, sipped instant coffee, heavy-lidded in the lull of three o’clock. The Premier
of Holland will recount an anecdote in perfect English (the astounding fart
that punctured talks on agricultural policy). Eventually our giggling will stutter
to its end, our ribs relax, we’ll fall into the rhythm of each other’s breath
and stay like that for twelve hours at a stretch, arms around each other’s middles,
dreaming not of anything we want because we have it, all there is to have.