Self-styled doyen of Irish poetry, Simmons (Mainstream, 1994) continues to experiment with a variety of verse forms: his latest book features long and short poems, several songs, and a sestina. His poems are guileless and relentlessly flat. Simmons will often draw attention to just these aspects of his craft, as if self-consciousness could excuse the failures. In the long title poem, for example, he admits that “Politics and conversation / are often too difficult for me. / I have nothing urgent to say, / no strong opinions.” Lacking strong opinions, Simmons is content to celebrate the simple joys of raising his children, downing his pint, watching the lawn succeed, and writing poems about such phenomena in many insipid combinations. Of course it takes a Scrooge to frown at another’s happiness, but the unadulterated gaiety of Simmons’s poems comes at high price. In his determination to be pleased with life as he finds it, he places blinkers on the range of his poetic vision. When he does attempt to address some darker themes, his efforts are embarrassingly mawkish. In “Father With Sick Child” he chides himself for being visited by the Muse while his son coughs in bed. Worse still, in “Love Leads Me into Danger,” he gathers chestnuts for his daughter by flinging a starting handle into a tree. The iron sticks among the branches and the pair drives on to further adventures; but the poet later reflects that “haunting our fun / was that lethal implement / . . . / It was nothing we meant, / but it could fall on someone’s skull / outside the circle of our intimacy / to hurt, to kill someone.”
After 30 years of practice one would hope for a few more tricks.