Southwest Book Review: 'The Blood and the Bone and the Flesh of it All'

Mar 31, 2017

The late Flagstaff poet Jim Simmerman was a brilliant, lonely writer. His work was prolific and award winning. But, in 2006, plagued by demons and health problems, Simmerman took his own life. Now, a new tribute book to the author has been released. The Blood and the Bone and the Flesh of it All, by James Jay and Miles Waggoner, is a collection of writings and letters by Simmerman, his friends and students. In KNAU's latest Southwest Book Review, Mary Sojourner finds beauty in the sadness. 

The Blood and the Bone and the Flesh of it All, James Jay's and Miles Waggoner's tribute to the work of the late poet Jim Simmerman, is more than a poetry collection. It is a series of love letters from Jim's colleagues and students to his work - and love poems from Simmerman to them and his readers. His poetry was blithe and tormented. He was an alcoholic, an addict. He lived with a bi polar disorder and the difficult gift of being a brilliant writer. In his later years, a series of physical illnesses drove Simmerman to take his own life. 

In their introductory essays, Jay and Waggoner give us all of the poet: the ravaged nervous system, the drinking, the soaring exultations and bleak despairs, the lonliness and brilliance, the generous and demanding attention he gave to his students. Many of the poems that follow are achingly good. Simmerman writes about his cruel father, a man trapped in his own brutal childhood. He writes about his house and the forest that lies beyond it: "a forest where animals see I'll never learn to see from here, from atop this deck I stick to pretty closely mainly because I built it and because it gives me a certain point of view on things I'm mostly apart from anymore, things that are dark and wild and strange...". 

He writes about the fragile nature of human love and the faithful nature of his love for dogs. In Fetch, a lament for a dead and treasured pup: "Lo, wouldn't I shake from this sweet gnawed dream to rise and fetch you in, with the light that returns me day after day, takes you again and again."

I read The Blood and the Bone and the Flesh of it All not in the way I usually read novels - immersing myself for hours. I read the poems slowly, 2 or 3 at a time, waiting between reading each of them , letting the deeper meanings - there were always deeper meanings - permeate me. I wished I could call him and tell him how his poems had slowed me, gentled me, humbled me. And, when I read a line that stopped my breath for its gorgeous audacity: "Blown-out treads along the side of interstates flap themselves into great dark birds, soar", I wanted to raise him from the dead and thank him for being such a faithful servant to his craft.