SANDRA SIMONDS is the author of four books of poems including The Glass Box (forthcoming, Saturnalia), The Sonnets (Bloof Books, forthcoming), Mother Was a Tragic Girl (Cleveland State University Press, 2012) and Warsaw Bikini (Bloof Books, 2009). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Best American Poetry 2014, The American Poetry Review, Fence, and Lana Turner.

I have trained myself to write poetry, to write about poetry, to read poetry deep into the night. These hours confuse me for I am, by nature, a morning person. At night, my mind is fuzzy and the world seems glassed over by some kind of narcotic force so my only hope is to extract a few magic charms from its erotic center of imaginative power. “The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars,” writes Anne Sexton. “May night continue to fall upon the orchestra” writes Andre Breton.
I’ve trained myself to write at night because my children wake me up around 6am. So, the morning hours, the hours when I used to write long ago, the time when I’m most clear-headed, is no longer mine. In the morning, the children ask for bread and butter and water and milk and I have to pick out their clothes for school, put on their socks and shoes and drive them across town and then once they are dropped off, I have to drive from Florida to Georgia where I work as a professor all day and at the end of the day, I drive back from Georgia to Florida to pick up the kids and then make them dinner and read books and sing songs and put them to bed.

This daily routine takes up almost all of my time. There are many nights when the kids don’t want to go to sleep. Sometimes my five-year-old son, Ezekiel, gets up from his bed. “Mommy, I need water,” he says. I tell him that it’s bedtime and that he has to go to sleep. A minute later, “Mommy, I’m scared of the dark. I want to sleep in your bed.” (As I’m revising this now on the morning of 5/8/14, my two-year-old daughter, Charlotte, is saying “up” over and over again because she wants to sit on my lap). This little dance can go on for an hour, sometimes, if I’m unlucky, longer. I put him back to bed. Once he’s asleep Charlotte, begins to cry. She needs milk. Maybe she has a slight fever from a molar coming in. I go to the kitchen and fill her bottle with milk. Maybe I rock her in the rocking chair. Maybe I sing Hush Little Baby. I have sung what seems to be lifetimes of Hush Little Baby. The doctor has told me that she shouldn’t drink milk at night (it could damage her teeth). What do I do? Do I give her the milk so that she might fall asleep or wait for her to stop crying? I feel a sense of guilt for giving her the milk. Just this once, I think. Eventually, both children fall asleep and I am left with some uninterrupted time.

I know that I’m not unique. I know that most of us give up almost all of our time to work, either housework or work outside the home or both. When you read this now you are probably thinking, “I don’t have time to read this” just as when I am writing this now I think “I don’t have time to write this.”

Maybe it’s 9 or 10 at night and I decide that I want to write a poem. Now I imagine all of the dead workers who inhabit this nocturnal realm, who also had almost their entire lives, all of their time stolen from them. Aren’t they a kind of family? I imagine their names and histories. I imagine them as secretaries, and receptionists, and factory workers. One pours me a cup of coffee. And now, you see, I am making a poem.  One tells me not to fall asleep. I name her “Maria.” One might ask, very politely, how my day was. I name her “Sarah.” Sometimes, I cry because I am tired but mostly I don’t because I want to write poetry and I want to write about poetry and I want people to read my poems and I want to read the poems of other people.

A writer friend today said, “Oh I could never drink a cup of coffee past 5pm because I would stay up all night!” I admit to feeling a little bit superior. For I have become the kind heroic writer who can stay up until night becomes the wispy, pinkish, layered sky of the Tallahassee morning. And now I have created a problem for myself because if I become the heroine of my own romantic narrative, and if the writing  I am creating from this space is good, it must mean that  it doesn’t matter if it is created from this space, and that the adverse or favorable conditions in which a piece of writing was produced can be separated, finally, from the piece of writing itself. And yet, we intuitively know from our experience as women, mothers, as poor people, as people of color, that this is not true, that the conditions in which we write have everything to do with the kinds of poems that we make. We write poems about giving birth, poverty, race, surveillance, the police state and so on because they are intimately connected to our experiences as people who are struggling to live in this world and it is from these experiences. As Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich have argued before us, we must draw our experiences in order to fully inhabit as well as challenge our subjectivity. When someone claims that the conditions in which a poem are created are irrelevant to the poems itself, we know, from our own life experiences and from our poems that come from them, that have become rich from them, that this must be wrong.

When did it happen, that these night hours became a dominion of uninterrupted time? When will it happen that these hours will become chopped up, halved, quartered, split into eighths dissected and deranged by the contemporary imposition of work-time-space? At least for now, provisionally, I have some part of the night to myself. I doubt it will last long.

Night and her strange visions! Night and her strange visions of strangeness! How could we allow poetry to ever be transformed into labor in the same way that going to a job and getting a paycheck and having to pay rent to our masters is labor? I’d like to echo and agree very much with Andew Joron’s talk here where “jobs not jail” is turned into “JOBS ARE JAIL”.

So in our political struggles, many of us position ourselves against labor. But I also like the idea of positioning ourselves against a certain kind of poetry and certain institutions of poetry that continuously threaten to turn poetry writing into a job, and then, when they don’t have to pay you anymore because they know you will write for free, an unpaid internship.

To say that poetry isn’t a job is to simultaneously acknowledge that certain kinds of poems can be forces that speak against political oppression, through their ambiguities, images, sounds, patterns, assertions, thinking, imaginative landscapes and emancipatory desires. Poems remind us that the world is not our world. How can we navigate our thinking and imagination beyond the limits of the surface if we do not recognize the symbolic constellation and historical struggles that exist in the impossible space / time that can only be made, manifested and demanded within the language of the poem?  Breton again: “Keep reminding yourself that literature is one of the saddest roads that leads to everything.”

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