Critical Acclaim

Critical Acclaim for Jim Simmerman’s Books


In American Children, Pulitzer Prize/National Book Award nominee Jim Simmerman explores the many possibilities of form, texture, and tone in the elegy—from free verse to formalist, from straightforward to surreal, from somberly meditative to dazzlingly wise-ass. Four long elegies are bridged by three sequences: one of poems in free verse, another of poems in traditional and nonce forms, and a third of “miniatures”— brief verse snapshots arranged in pairs and processions. The overriding theme is loss—of youth, of loves, of friends, of mentors, of self. Throughout appear Simmerman’s technical mastery, his unique combination of wit and passion, and his unsparing yet affirmative view of our shaky perch above oblivion. Altogether missing are the sentimentality and mopery into which the elegy in less sure hands can tumble.

—William Trowbridge


“Many of these Biblical monologues are revisionist, attributing to Adam and Eve, Noah, Lot’s wife and many others the complexities of doubt, self-awareness, as well as hilarious bits of absurd humor.  Like Berryman, the voicing modulates from highly technical to bawdy to reverent, all in one poem….  Writers as diverse as Ferlinghetti and Sexton have put in their bids for the story of Christ, but none of their strongest attempts feel as multi-layered, electric, and poignant as Simmerman’s.  Like the displaced Noah in the concluding poem, we believe this book because it speaks to us through the voices of our own fractured moment in history.”

—Michael Tyrell in HARVARD REVIEW


“Jim Simmerman’s new book…offers troubling and resonant satisfactions both in its poetic mastery and its heartfelt inquiries….  If forced to compare him to another contemporary poet, I’d have to posit a composite: Bill Knott (for playful inventiveness) plus Marilyn Hacker (for formal competence) plus Philip Levine (for his good heart). If that seems like an unlikely aesthetic mix to dwell in one poet, such are the surprises in these poems.”

—Alison Deming in SONORA REVIEW


“Post-modern in his concern for language itself as subject, post-Ashberian in his juxtaposition of elevated idiom and slang…Simmerman attempts in his second collection to redefine not only what’s conventionally poetic, but what’s recognizably articulate….   ONCE OUT OF NATURE’s best performances beguile, delight, and convince even as the magician insists there’s nothing up his sleeve.”

—Steven Cramer in POETRY


“These are evocative and beautifully rendered poems.  Time and again I found myself stopping to draw breath, moved and sometimes startled at the aching rightness of the image, the felicity of the line.  Simmerman is clearly among the best poets of his generation.”

—Raymond Carver in his Pushcart “Writer’s Choice” citation

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