ORLANDO, BY SANDRA SIMONDS
Sandra Simonds’ latest from Wave Books, Orlando, is relentless as a fever-dream, composed of her two long poems “Orlando” and “Demon Spring.” Through these two poems, Simonds’ speaker apostrophizes the city known for Disney and false fantasy, Orlando, Florida, that has witnessed the speaker’s life, specifically her relationship with her abusive ex. “Orlando / . . . to address you is weak, pathetic, and once home, the clouds become a picture of things / I did to Craig . . .” The poem “Orlando” sparks with sensation. Its long lines and frank prose, embedded with italicized excerpts of the speaker’s past diary entries, build the context for the speaker’s character, establishing a pattern of suspicion and self-doubt. The speaker accuses Craig⏤an accusation that seamlessly shifts onto Orlando⏤of reading her diary and finding it (her) lacking: “what spasmodic teenage language crossed with erotic energy and bubbling lyrics / of pop songs folded you in, made you want to read more, then close the diary / in disgust . . .” The city of Orlando represents all that this speaker has failed, is anti, refused, and despises in herself and Western society: artifice, cruelty, consumerism, capitalism, pornography, misogyny, etc. “Orlando, place of raw material, place of affect, / place of lush box, the pulse so lush / it makes the live version of history / stream before you like tears.”
When her collection shifts to “Demon Spring,” Simonds reshapes her language, employing a range of long and short lines, varied punctuation, and sections that move readers through layers, as if descending Simonds’ own inferno. Her address widens past Orlando to include her ex’s lover: “I like your blue dress, Molly / It reminds me of my old body. / I try so hard, Molly.” Through this apostrophe Simonds’ speaker picks up and sets down her many subjects⏤at times as a conceptual interrogation of the subject⏤and braids it tightly to the autobiographical details of her speaker’s life, so that the real and the imagined life become indecipherable. Sandra Simonds’ Orlando moves intensely, nimbly, and with exacting intention. It recasts place, as well as the stories of the past and present, and the speaker who tells.
—Review by Madeline Vardell