Black Lawrence Press
November 22, 2019

Welcome, Brian Simoneau!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in the past six months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Brian Simoneau, author of the poetry collection No Small Comfort, which will be published in 2021.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

The Author

Brian Simoneau is the author of the poetry collection River Bound (C&R Press, 2014), which was chosen by Arthur Smith for the 2013 De Novo Prize. His poems have appeared in Boston ReviewCave WallCincinnati ReviewColorado ReviewCrazyhorseThe Georgia ReviewMid-American ReviewPoet LoreRHINOSalamanderThird Coast, and other journals. Originally from Lowell, Massachusetts, he lives near Boston with his family.

On Writing No Small Comfort

I started working on the poems in No Small Comfort back in 2006 or so, mostly at the kitchen table in our cozy apartment, the top-floor of a triple decker in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston. I’d recently moved back to Massachusetts after six years in Oregon and California, and in that time I’d finished an MFA, buried my father, and married the woman I love. Now, struggling to feel connected to a place that had once been home to a very different version of myself, I threw myself into another round of graduate school and immersed myself in reading poetry and prose from Donne to Dickinson, Emerson to Baldwin, Old English riddles to critical theory. I responded to these voices and others as I drafted poems about places I missed and places I barely recognized, and I realized I was writing—as I had been for years—about the ways grief recedes and returns over time, how it changes and changes but never really goes away.

Over the next ten years, I left my PhD program to teach high school, and then I left teaching to stay at home with our three daughters. I still wrote a lot about loss and landscape, but as I experienced the worries and joys of fatherhood, I became more and more preoccupied with the moments we miss as they happen. Instead of always dwelling on the past and all that’s lost, I wanted to look closely at the present and to imagine a future not yet marked by grief. As I slowly gathered these poems, I ultimately found myself grappling with loss and nostalgia, with fatherhood and anxiety, with what it means to make a home in a constantly changing world. I’ve tried to make seen the moments that too easily escape our notice, common experiences that make each of us part of something bigger, some larger process of living and dying that often remains beyond understanding.

Excerpts

A Lake Opens Up Beneath Your Feet
 
            Like the sound you imagine a bone
makes as it breaks if you never broke
            a bone, atonal snap that’s nothing
like rifle crack or thunder clap
            or knot in a crackling log. Like
a twig crunching underfoot only
            if you’re standing only on twigs
over a deep hole you didn’t know
            was waiting but are now certain is
studded with sharpened stakes, your breath
            gripped. There’s no simile for such sound—no
metaphor for thuds, thumps, crashes, passing
            seconds contracting the space around
the brain—only the sound of the sound,
            every echo unsayable. Of course
if you’re not alone, or if you’re alone
            and getting it down in lines is what
crosses your mind, then you’re not really
            hearing it right because it happens
so fast, so fucking fast, but perhaps
            it’s beside the point since even
those who’ve never heard the silence of
            snow will know ice breaking
when sound begins to break beneath them.

***

Record Flooding as Metaphor for Grief

Not the river rushing its banks and breaking 

dams, overrunning sandbags stacked in the hours 

before it crested. Not the unmeasured depth 

that wrecks a pickup and the tow truck grinding 

to haul it out, the mud-brown wall that splinters 

trunks like twigs and rips up others, roots and all. 

Not the risen water, not the raging waves, 

but the basement slowly gaining back its shape:

seven feet of muck pumped out, a foundation 

unhoused, four stone walls with only space to hold,

the contents of boxes spilled and spoiled—photos

and baby clothes soaking in sludge—all of it 

exposed, opened up to sky, the sudden sky 

and its cruel light pouring through what used to be 

shelter, and nothing left to fill such a hole.

***

No Small Comfort

Branches bare on Friday 
 managed to bud by Monday morning—

my weekend hike beside a creek 
 to find a centuries-old grindstone 

not nearly as impressive 
 as winter-dormant blossoms 

making their sudden yellow show 
 against blue sky, my newest lines 

about seasons spinning into place 
 with storm after storm 

no match for photosynthesis 
 setting itself in motion again. 

Every tree spreads its leaves 
 and converts the atmosphere to food 

using water and sunlight, feeding itself and
 releasing what I need 

to breathe. Me? 
 In a couple of weeks I can grow a beard 

that catches crumbs 
 from the crust of my steak and cheese. 

It’s impossible, turning the corner 
 to millions of these little flags 

unfurling, not to be impressed  
 by a world that makes itself over 

each day. It baffles, befuddles
 to think of living, breathing 

creatures seeming all but dead all winter 
 one day flourishing 

colors and textures and odors 
 I hardly recognize after months

of shielding my eyes from the glare 
 of snow and ice, turning away 

from bare branches and the longing 
 empty space between them makes. 

In a mind made numb by winter 
 it’s easy to accept 

doing the same thing over and over 
 and hoping for different results 

as a version of insanity. Really 
 it’s no small comfort to know 

what grows before our eyes keeps going: 
 trees coming into bloom

or two-day whiskers on my chin, or the skin 
 on my hands scored by scars.

Under all there’s 
 little difference. 

In a world that cuts us—
 every last one of us—down,

it’s no small comfort to see 
 what we see and be overcome.


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