It is rare for a book of poems to explore well not only historical eras but also the lives of past people, especially those neglected by formal history, and yet Kimberly J. Simms accomplishes this historic excavation in her first collection Lindy Lee: Songs on Mill Hill. Simms weaves South Carolina history of mill workers in the late nineteenth century, both personal and journalistic in detail, and spins their lives into stories. The story of mill workers in the South is often forgotten, blotted out by the shadow of the agricultural South in historical narratives, and yet in this book Simms makes a case for the necessity of these stories through a juxtaposition of elegiac and celebratory poems. These mill women and children gave birth to early labor movements in the South, providing for poor, white women an early entrance into fields of labor not shared by their Northern counterparts until many decades later.
She focuses on the lives of children, with “lungs full of lint/calloused soles black with machine oil,” forced by familial poverty to work in the mills. Despite their hardships, they remain children, curious and searching for glints of innocent joy in the clouds of cotton dust. If one listens to these poems, one might hear flashes of song between the mechanical churn of ginning machines. There remain winks of wonder in the midst of the mundane, the workers at the mill holding fast to kindness and community. Simms writes, “Charity starts with a twang in the heart.”
Her poems, however, do not ignore the cruel aspect of mill life. In focusing on the fictional character of Lindy Lee, a young girl working in the mill, Simms explores how workplace politics, the selfishness of supervisors, the despotic power of mill owners combine to mold a life of misery for individuals with little power. The machinery of not only place but also society work together to strip Lindy Lee of her agency.
Ultimately, this story is one of survival, not glamorous, but instead a product of a series of steps toward a better life. “I want to dance lint-less,” wishes the speaker of one poem, finding escape in cinema. Whether the speakers of these poems describe flooding in middle Saluda, a familiar problem to contemporary readers, or the drudgery of daily mill work, Simms sings songs in which every life is both lament and fanfare. And the pain of the everyday may be relieved only by the hope of a softer future, a future not coarse as cotton, in which “tomorrow I will take up silk.”
Lindy Lee: Songs on Mill Hill is available on October 21st and can be pre-ordered here….
And you can check out the publisher’s site here…
Kimberly Simms is a travelling poet. Will she be visiting your city on her tour? Find out here…
There’s a voice in my head when I read poems, and she speaks like a rust-wreck gassed up on moonshine. But you can only say something meaningful in the poem if you speak like you’re reciting the side effects of a questionable medicine at the end of a 2am infomercial, only slower. There’s a brick caught in your throat, and the poet sometimes speaks around it, certain to en-nun-see-eight each word. The brick is twined with a message scrawled on a bar napkin, reads, what I’m saying right now is very important.
The poet is a not a hypnotist, only sounds like it. Perhaps in speaking with the voice, a voice that does not seem to ever belong in anyone’s human mouth, the poet
authority. The poet talks
in his sleep
these words are merely
dream, an imprint
of what sentences
may not say until broken
I step out of the student secretary office into the sun and cross the street to the library in order to sit down and write my final thoughts on Tuebingen. I am leaving soon, spending the night at a friend’s flat before flying home tomorrow morning. As I pass across the street, I nearly stumble into The Naked Man.
The Naked Man stands in the park every day and has done so for the past few months, often half-naked. People say he’s crazy. He is a homeless man who dresses either in grass-streaked tidy-whities or a full suit. His favorite hobbies include snapping the branches off trees, assuming fighting stances, drinking beer, and laughing at strangers. He often walks toward strangers in order to laugh at them. That’s so strange, so unnverving.
When I bump into The Naked Man, he gives me a queer look, a cocktail mixture of anger and curiosity. And so I ask in German, “Hey, man, I’ve been watching you for some time now. Why do you do the things you do? I mean, it doesn’t make sense. You stand there and kick the air or talk with strangers? Why do you approach random groups of people to laugh at them?”
And that’s all I want to know, the underlying absurdity of his actions. A reason. A meaningful reason.
The Naked Man stares at me, his mouth breaking into a grin.
And he laughs. And laughs. And says nothing more.
Cold here, yet the city flirts with Spring. In the park where I sit, purple-white blooms poke their dainty heads through the soil. A flock of pigeons nip at breadcrumbs that a crew of elderly ladies feed them, the flock spotted with a few stealthy blackbirds. In the old town, where the uneven cobblestone avenues rival the ruined streets of Charleston, violins, squabbles, tourists. A world of noise disrupting the afternoon air. I stop to eat schnitzel at a pub and struggle through a children’s book written in German.
In the park near the river, two toddlers meet each other (tiny humans, these) and bestow fits to one another (stick, then flower). Though they are strangers, the retain some deep knowledge of the other. I grieve for the loss of instinctual intelligence we held as toddlers (ice cream good! falling down bad! ants bad! must destroy ants!). Craving a return to the primal, the immediate, I wish not to feel so distant.
Today, then, I have become a toddler. I wander with no sense of direction and latch to whatever joy idles by. Turns out, there’s much joy to grasp. Turns out, blackbirds mimic pigeons to coax bread crumbs from elderly ladies. Turns out, you can pretend to become anything so that your mind or gut might be fed.
I have neglected this blog for a long time, because I’ve been fairly busy with school, but I want to re-establish my online presence here and now. I am breathing, poet-ing, and living life all the time. In the course of these events, I have a few tidbits of incredibly explosive news.
Firstly, I have decided to self-publish a chapbook of poetry, which will be entitled Skinny Dipping with Strangers, named after the featured poem of the same name. Hypothetically, this poem will be released in early January or as early as late December! I will be working on it even harder once I finish final exams and begin my winter break!
Secondly, I will be performing at a number of shows in the upcoming months, including the open mics I already frequent. The soonest will come this Wednesday on November 20th at the 827. I will be performing a 25 minute feature, after which will follow an open mic and poetry slam! For all the information, check out the event here: http://www.the827.com/#!open-mic-night/cdoa
Or you can join the Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/556583157768045/
If you cannot make this performance, that will be perfectly fine. There will possibly be another Charleston-centric event I shall update you about on a later date.
Likewise, if you’re not in the Charleston area and clambering to experience Derek Berry’s poetic gymnastics, I have three great options for you. Firstly, I will be working in the coming weeks to produce a few low-budget videos of my performances, and maybe even some music-video-type projects for poems! Secondly, I am going to work on getting a professional recording of the poems that will appear in the book (and some other poems too) which I will be giving away for free to those that purchase the book.
Finally, I have a very exciting announcement. I will be featuring in the city where my spoken word started off– Augusta, GA! On January 2nd, 2014, I will perform a show at M.A.D. Studios, hosted by Catherine Zickgraf. I will also post again about this in the future. You can come out and see me play home field.
In other words, get psyched for the possibilities for the future. There have been other poetic concerns clouding my mind, but I don’t want to share them until they become officiated. Keep in touch, and I will keep everyone updated.
You wake up, your chest bursting open
your ribcage splayed across your bed, bleeding unto the morning
These words will rip you apart, will climb from your heart
there’s been a poet living there all along
I read this perplexing article, which prompted me to respond.
I do not particularly like cats, despite the fact one has made a home out of my room. It is not so much that I own the cat, but rather, we co-inhabit the same area, a fact she too is not at all fond of. She forces her way in each night and perches on the windowsill, unblinkingly watching me sleep. Whenever I wake up in the dead of night, she stares at me intently as if daring me to close my eyes again, to let my guard down. Most nights, I suspect she is plotting her revenge for times when I have locked her outside in a rain storm. I try to exclude her, to leave her in some other, empty room, but she has claimed my bed as hers, my desk as hers, my clothes as her personal, extra-comfy throne.
However “cat people” came into being is still a mystery to me. I understand why someone might love a dog, who shows owners endless, unwarranted affection. Cats, however, disdain their owners. They are lazy and as tedious as taxes. They live to spite your efforts with a critical, demon eye. There can’t be much dignity in owning a pet who, in her eyes, owns you.
But there has been talk from Petrarch to modern day spinners that poets prefer the company of cats, as if we share their prickly self-obsession, their self-preening, egotistical ways. They do not demand respect either, but they expect it. I would certainly not allow Blake’s Tyger to lounge in my windowsill nor would I tolerate any of Poe’s black cats worming their way across my path. If one crossed the road, I would speed up to kill it before its bad luck infected me. And if I were Alice, utterly loss in the fantastical dreamland of my own adolescence, I would never act so kindly to the Cheshire Cat who seems to take great delight in confusion and disappearance.
Cats are not muses, cannot properly inspire anything but mutual distrust, especially when they swat your feet with sharp claws or when you kick them sharply in the gut. So I simply do not see why writing and cats should mix. I do not keep company with Crookshanks or Fritz or even Garfield. Jerry the Mouse might as well drop anvils on all their heads as well.
There is not much left to say on the subject, and I’m quite unsure why I brought it up in the first place. There is a common phrase, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” And if you don’t know why someone would want to skin a cat, you obviously have never owned one.
Friday will be a quarterly Coffeehouse showcase at the Aiken County Playhouse. Featured will be The Company and Broadway Bound groups performing songs and some dance numbers. Try to come out and support the ACP. Tickets are $10.
I will also be performing some poems. As open mic season heats back up (for me, this is the summer because of the extreme lack of scholarly responsibilities), I will be amping up my poetry game. Firstly, I’m going to write new material. I’ve been using the same poems for a while now, churning out a new one now and then. But I’ve got to write more original pieces to share this summer. Also, I will be refining my craft, which means rehearsing pieces more often and memorizing them better. This is partly because I honestly want to perform better and partly because I want to win some poetry slams this summer.
So, this Friday, for ten dollars, you can see some amazing singers, amazing dancers, and one comic poet. Sounds like a plan? You betcha!
As an added bonus, I’d like to share some pictures of me performing poetry and of me at poetry events. Just looking at these gets me revved up for this summer’s festivities!
Check out my poetry this Friday downtown at the Aiken Community Playhouse in the Black Box! To see videos of past performances, check the sidebar called “POETRY.”