Surfer-girl, mall-rat, mom: Sandra Simonds’ lyric avatar in The Sonnets riffs recklessly (“I wanted love—not deceit. Eat shit / deceit! I’ve got to update my CV”), alludes to celebrities and brands (Tom Petty, Bikram, Hello Kitty, Vincent Gallo, Forever 21, Twitter), and is preoccupied with the material world, its creation, and the creative act itself. In “American Songs,” she declares her formal ambitions, confessing a deficiency only to invert it; the moves she makes strip a pose to its pith:
This was going to be a gorgeous crown
of sonnets about atoms and bombs.
To tell you the truth, I don’t know jack
about crowns or Adam and Eve. But isn’t that what’s
awesome about being an American poet?
You can just take your ignorance
and run with it or rename it bravado
Less critique than inquiry, Simonds’ bravado becomes more than the assertion of attitude. Most compelling about The Sonnets is its music and swagger, their depth and textures, and the singular persona these elements construct:
Make me a mutant cannon of DNA you can’t rein in,
a carrier pigeon cannon formed
of decomposed Morse code, hoarfrost on the chromo-
some boats, the eyehole
bones of an abandoned woman’s hello or the unborn.
Hitting a tonal sweet spot between sardonic and earnest, Simonds maintains this breezy and disaffected quality throughout other more overtly sincere poems. Section Two opens and closes with meditations on surface, and it’s useful to interpret these as arguing the materialist aesthetic in The Sonnets:
The surface must be believed like cattle. The surface must be tended to
like farmland underneath mountains that dissolve
and erode, leaving their minerals in our bone
This is what geologists call the surface,
but what about the surfeit underneath
—“Dismantling the Cradle”
“Golden Buddha” recalls a high school job hanging menus on people’s doorknobs and makes Simonds’ claim explicit: “This sonnet sincerely hopes you understand that even though / it’s about class and poverty… it’s also about how this work… gave me beautifully / sculpted calf muscles as well as the ability to write this sonnet.” Simonds’ gleeful manipulations of the form seem to make a declaration of the poem as a bodied thing, an assertion that it exists, suffices, and remains.