Tuesday, May 22, 2007



The Humble Travelogues of Mr. Ian Worthington (Written from Land and Sea) by Sandra Simonds
(Cy Gist Press, New York, 2007)

Here is what we know while reading Sandra Simonds' fascinating chapbook, The Humble Travelogues of Mr. Ian Worthington (Written from Land and Sea): The island on which her main character, Mr. Worthington, lives, is real. Bouvet island is indeed, "the most remote island on the planet" (thanks Wikipedia). It is located somewhere near Antarctica (but, actually, is not even very close to there). Bouvet Island is uninhabited. We also know that Mr. Ian Worthington lives in the future. Sometime around, "44444444444444," or perhaps, long after that since Mr. Worthington refers to the date as that of a war fought long ago. We also know that Mr. Worthington has a friend/lover/wife named Camille whom he writes to and sends poems and notes for poems. And we know that others inhabit/ed the island including a man named Abdul who takes (took) care of Mr. Worthington, six flying squirrels named Lucas, Torch, Hindleg, Maximus, Penny, and Richard Nixon, and a nameless amputee who lives in a stained glass teepee (he may be long dead at the time of some of the letters). But other than these "facts" which serve as a kind of hanger on which this most excellent poem/story hangs, anything is possible.

Ms. Simonds knows exactly how much of the facts we need in order to take huge imaginative leaps with her into the mind (perhaps, the psychosis, would be more accurate) of Mr. Ian Worthington, the future, the island itself, and the dream images of the author herself. What a huge success. Even the chapbook's length is perfect (12 pages) in that one feels satisfied reaching the end while wanting more. Mr. Ian Worthington, a blip in the radar of the fictional future, as a persona, deserves no more, but because Ms. Simonds is such a terrific poet, not one word less.

But The Humble Travelogues . . . isn't just structurally brilliant. It's the images and word play that serve as the meat and potatoes of this collection. When Mr. Worthington says, in one of his letters to Camille written in 3/4/6895, "My little acre of tar—yes, it is far away—but really what isn't" one is struck by the distance we try to ignore in our everyday relationships with others. Ms. Simonds tweaks the cliché that every one of us is an island. She suggests instead that not only are we islands but, worse, we are, metaphorically, stuck in the absurd future and we are more or less psychotic, and we are, futilely, telling ourselves that we are not scared.

Ms. Simonds is a protégé (known or unknown to Ms. Simonds) of another wonderfully enigmatic poet named Mary Ruefle. The two are compadres because both convey the cold, weird distance between the self and others. Simonds is also, structurally, a cousin to Ashbery. While reading "The Travelogues . . . " one easily thinks of Ashbery's Girls on the Run. But one is also happily reminded of the rock band the Flaming Lips and Godard's Alphaville because like Godard and the Flaming Lips Ms. Simonds creates a world that is so cool and hip and then questions the nature of what it means to be cool and hip. When Simonds says through one of Mr. Worthington's notes on a poem, "I lived alone. // Poured silver confetti through a sieve, // ate lint from an empty tin can of chickpeas." it is Ms. Simonds giving us the cool image of the silver confetti only to take it away, somehow, unfashionably, with lint and a can of chickpeas. The psychosis of Mr. Worthington, through the dreaming on the page of Ms. Simonds, performs so eloquently, a series of phrases and wordplay of sense and nonsense that swings back and forth like a pendulum from the cool to the un-cool.

If anyone deserves a prize for mastering the chapbook genre, it is Sandra Simonds, for the The Humble Travelogues . . . is a chapbook masterpiece.


Frank Giampietro's first book of poetry, Fear of Takeoff and Landing is forthcoming from Alice James Books in the fall of 2008. He is currently enrolled in the PhD program in creative writing at Florida State University and is the on-line editor of The South East Review, and the founding editor of thefovea.org. His poems have appeared in journals such as Columbia Poetry Review, CutBank, and 32 Poems.


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