Words that can't sit still

Reading Sandra Simonds's poetry collection, Warsaw Bikini, is like walking through a minefield.

warsaw bikini book (photo credit: Courtesy)
warsaw bikini book
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Warsaw Bikini By Sandra Simonds Bloof Books 80 pages; $15 To move through the pages of Sandra Simonds's collection of poetry, Warsaw Bikini, is to move with intent, with care, as though you were walking through a minefield. That's not to say Warsaw Bikini, Simonds's first full-length work, isn't a pleasurable read. The title is a reflection of the range of the content - it varies from lead to helium, from apocalyptic and Holocaust imagery to pop culture references, often within the boundaries of one poem. The reader gets a sense of Simonds's supreme comfort with the form - lines vary in length, some poems are dense, some are light and airy, some zip along, some move with a deliberate thickness. But the reader also gets an overriding sense of her discomfort with much of the content, and the resulting dissonance and tension is irresistible. This friction is a driving force to the Pushcart Prize-nominated Simonds. "I feel that my poems are anxious," she says, "and a large part of this anxiety is historical and familial." Simonds is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors - her maternal grandfather fought on the behalf of the French Resistance while her maternal grandmother was kept safe by a French family throughout the war. "I think that there is a dual place in my psyche: from my grandfather a feeling of strength, of fighting back, and from my grandmother a place of fear, of hiding, of waiting." The traumatic events Simonds's maternal grandparents lived through imbued her mother, in turn, with "a sense that Europe was not a place to stay." So, Simonds's mother came here in the late 1960s, where she met Simonds's father, an American immigrant. The couple attended university here and then lived on a kibbutz in the North before leaving for the US, where Simonds was born and raised. When they left in the mid-'70s, "they felt that Israel was changing and they didn't like it anymore... they were in a state of constant displacement. I think that the language of my poems reflects this displacement - the language can't sit still. It's always on the move so to speak." "The truth about the pills I took" serves as an excellent example of the dynamic nature of Simonds's work. The language and the words flutter between the past and present, rendering the line between the two nonexistent. The poem begins "color me the spiral siren against an august sweatshop/for the forehead of the immigrant's wet face/me when you speak and don't fidget." But as we move through the lines, we also move through time arriving to a bleak Holocaust landscape: "so when the wrought iron/gate/opens/the flesh field - the story/ goes as follows... [once upon a midnight we lived on…Mount…Up…There…/snow freeze in the nostrils - the aryan climate of deer,/pine needles and forget-me-nots dunked into steam soup."