Michael Simms: Why you might be interested in my new book
Yesterday evening, an old friend called to say that my collection of poems American Ash had helped him. My openness about being raped when I was a child made him look at his own childhood abuse, and for the first time he told someone; in fact, he told a whole roomful of people at his spiritual recovery group. This man is not the first to say that my poems have helped him bring into the open his repressed memories of childhood abuse. The friend who called me last night was anally raped at the age of twelve by his cousin, a sixteen-year-old boy. Another man had been raped with a hairbrush at the age of three by his twelve-year-old babysitter – a girl. Another had been raped by an uncle when he was eleven. The stories are difficult to hear – or to read — but unless we’re willing to listen to these men without judgement and without interjecting our own opinions, then these men’s pain, anger, violence, substance abuse and mental breakdowns will continue.
Whatever the literary merit of my book – and I make no special claims – I’m grateful that the poems have helped a few people to start talking about this taboo subject. As my friend said, there is a well-trod pathway to recovery for women who have been raped, but there’s not one for men, at least not yet. The recovery process is painful, and of course it takes many years, but my poems seem to have helped to open a door, so at least a few men have been able to start their journey. Sexual abuse of boys is a major problem, and most men are too ashamed to even look at their experience, much less to own it and to talk openly about it.
American Ash begins in the dirty realism of a Pittsburgh working-class neighborhood and the misery of addicts, and the subsequent poems attempt to trace one man’s raw, funny and challenging evolution to maturity and acceptance. The poems range widely in style and use a broad diction that includes the slang of the streets and the tender language of love, as well as concepts of history, politics and science, to create a riff on what it is to be alive in a time which may very well be “the end of civilization as we know it.”
American Ash weaves highly personal stories about my sister’s suicide, my own struggle with addiction, and the joy of finding love and a spiritual path against a background of the desperate politics of our time: perpetual war, the decay of urban life, and the encroaching chaos caused by our violation of nature. Populated by addicts, alcoholics, policemen, soldiers, veterans, carpenters, Peace Corps volunteers, African villagers, children, orphans, scientists, dogs, teachers, leftist nuns, refugees, torturers and saints, the poems attempt to evoke the primal and the sublime, the everyday and the metaphysical. In the world revealed in this collection, Gracie Allen, Richard Feynman and Moondog show us the path to enlightenment. “Being ordinary,” one poem asserts, “makes you a hero.”
Here’s what Ellen Foos my editor at Ragged Sky, says about American Ash:
At times playful and other times dead serious, Simms pushes the limits of what a book of poetry can do. With linguistic dexterity, he captures the syncopated rhythms of American speech recording one man’s journey from childhood abuse and addiction to a spiritually enlightened vision of life in all its absurd complexity. With a compassionate eye for the troubled and the ridiculous, Simms speaks to the deepest longings and strangest predilections of the human experience. Intense yet forgiving, this is a tough, unrelenting voice touched by grace.
And here’s what Chard deNiord, the former Poet Laureate of Vermont, says about the collection:
In a Beat-like voice that’s spontaneous, raw, and irrepressible, Michael Simms writes with the courage of a witness and the wisdom of a survivor. These poems leap, lament, pierce, transcend, delve, witness, praise, and testify to the curative power of poetry.
Or, if you prefer, Red Cedar Distribution, a company I own, is giving away FREE COPIES of American Ash to people who make a new donation to a progressive cause or candidate. Progressive organizations include, but are not limited to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Doctors w/o Borders, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or your local rape crisis center. I’m happy to report that so far we’ve raised over $3,000 for progressive causes through the book give-away. It works like this: donate $20 or more to your favorite progressive cause or candidate, and Red Cedar Distribution will send you a free copy of my new collection of poems American Ash. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org stating the name of the organization you donated to, the amount you donated and your mailing address. Remember, it needs to be a NEW donation, not a previous one. Thanks!
Wishing you love, peace and recovery,
Michael Simms has been active in politics and poetry for over 40 years as a writer, teacher, editor, and community activist. He is the founder of Vox Populi and of Autumn House Press, a nonprofit publisher of books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. He’s also the author of six collections of poetry and the co-author of a college textbook about poetry — and the lead editor of over 100 published books. Simms has won a number of awards and fellowships, including a Certificate of Recognition in 2011 from the Pennsylvania State Legislature for his contribution to the arts. Simms has an MFA from the University of Iowa and a Certificate in Plant-based Nutrition from Cornell University.
Simms is a childhood sexual abuse survivor, a person with autism who did not learn to speak until he was five years old, and a recovering alcoholic and drug addict with 35 years of sobriety. He lives with his wife Eva, a psychologist, in the historic Mount Washington neighborhood overlooking the city of Pittsburgh. Simms’ most recent collection of poems is American Ash.
Copyright 2020 Michael Simms. All rights reserved.
Thank you for sharing your story, Michael. Thank you for all you do for poetry and I am hoping to make it to your launch.
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Thank you, Sally!
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Michael: Best of everything with this new book! Sounds like you broke the doors open! Good! I am gladdened to say I found affinity with your writing, but I did not know you were in recovery. Me? 34 years! Right behind you! Daniel
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Thanks, Daniel! Congratulations on your 34 years. I hear it’s the first 50 years that are the hardest.
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