This week’s other featured books, “Becoming Westerly,” by Jamie Brisick and “The Magical Girl’s Guide to Life,” by Jacque Aye, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.
THE BOOK: Nightjar.
PUBLISHED IN: 2021
THE AUTHOR: Michael Simms.
THE EDITOR: Ellen Foos
THE PUBLISHER: Ragged Sky Press (a boutique publisher of poetry books in Princeton, New Jersey. Founder Ellen Foos is a managing editor for Princeton University Press, and Ragged Sky is a project she does on the side.)
SUMMARY: 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 friends 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, Michael Simms stretches the limits of poetic autobiography until personal anecdote rises to the level of timeless myth.
THE BACK STORY: In 2016, after many years of working as an editor and publisher at Autumn House Press, Simms turned over the publishing company to his assistants and left, planning to retire from the literary field. His parents had recently died, his children were grown and on their own, and he had a nice life, but he wasn’t content with merely cooking, gardening, and doing volunteer work as he’d planned. He felt compelled to come to terms with many of the unresolved conflicts and issues in his past. Out of this desire to make peace with himself came the book Nightjar, a series of songs and stories about some of the most troubling and beautiful events he’d experienced.
WHY THIS TITLE? Nightjar refers to a large family of nocturnal insect-eating birds sometimes called nighthawks. The name nightjar reflects the European folk-belief that the birds suckle goats by night, causing them to cease giving milk. The American whip-poor-will, a species of nightjar, is said to have the ability to sense a soul departing and to capture it as it flees. Nightjar is also the name of the title poem in the collection, which is about a post-apocalyptic world after the human species has become extinct.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? The poems are well-crafted songs and stories about love, death, nature, family life and memory. These are universal experiences, so everyone should be able to relate to the poems and, perhaps, use them as starting places for their own inner journey. More specifically, the author identifies as being on the autism spectrum and as a recovering drug addict and alcoholic with decades of “clean time.” Readers who have grappled with these issues, or who know someone who has, will find inspiration in these poems.
“Nightjar gives you that sense of showing up at the back door, unannounced, unheralded, and exhibiting all the signs of having gone through a rough journey—a journey that might not be quite over yet [….] But always, at the heart of this, is the poet whose name is Michael Simms, displaying the great grace of his powerful art.” – — Jose Padua, writing for Coal Hill Review
“…one of the most wonderful books I have ever read… Every poem gave me something to recognize, something to grapple with, some magic that made me see the world in a new way.” — Alexandra Umlas, writing for Cultural Daily.
“The poems gently insist we can be greater than our worst impulses… and therein lies the magic of the book. By confronting the darkness, Simms enacts a restoration of the light.” — Kristofer Collins, writing for Pittsburgh Magazine.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Michael Simms is a poet, writer, editor, publisher, and teacher. Three full-length collections of his poetry, four novels, and two widely adopted poetry textbooks have been published or are under contract with publishers. In 1998, Simms founded Autumn House Press, a literary publisher that has released hundreds of award-winning poetry, fiction, and nonfiction titles. Autumn House books have been widely reviewed in publications such as Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Prairie Schooner, The London Times Literary Supplement, and The Jerusalem Post. In 2011 Autumn House Press received a Certificate of Recognition from the Pennsylvania State legislature for AHP’s contribution to the arts.
OTHER WORKS BY THIS AUTHOR: Michael Simms’s Amazon Page.
LOCAL PITTSBURGH OUTLET: White Whale Bookstore. You can shop in one of the WWB Pittsburgh stores, or you can order a book for delivery anywhere in the United States.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: order the book by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Wholesale discounts available for bookstores and other retailers.
LIST PRICE: $17.00.
LEARN MORE ABOUT MICHAEL SIMMS: Website: https://www.michaelsimms.info Listen to the author read his poems.