Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> The Eagle Unhooded: Poetic Technique in Simms's Poetry and the Practical >> Page 27

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription The Eagle Unhooded: Poetic Technique
In Simms's Poetry and the Practical

James E. Kibler, Jr


One of the things that makes poetry poetry is striking figurative
language: symbol, metaphor, and simile in concentrated amounts. It is
fitting that Simms uses these effectively in Poetry and the Practical. Fred
Chappell, one of our finest poets, has described it as a "gorgeous bom-
bardment of Romantic sensibility" with language "as heady as an ancient
port wine." Much of that "headiness" is due to the barrage of symbol,
metaphor, and simile. An explanation of the work's poetic techniques
reveals what Simms feels the poet should and should not be.
Simms says that the commonly accepted meaning of practical
is strictly material utility. If a pursuit cannot make money, then it is not
useful. For Simms, it is the true poet who provides the minority report to
the masses' perception of utility; and for his pains, he is either scorned
or ignored. The bulk of society is focused on getting and spending, hav-
ing nice clothes, an impressive house, the finest foods, and a handsome
gig—in modern terms, a nice car.
Simms writes that the materialist's "very vehicles are objects
of respect, nay, veneration, and become virtues" (82). Simms thus pre-
dicts the coming great American love affair with the car. He would have
understood the main character of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood when
he says a person doesn't need redemption if he has a good car, or Harry
Crews' character in his novel Car, who loves the object so much that he
wants it inside him and thus eats a Ford Maverick piece by piece starting
with the bumper. The eating event is marketed to an adoring audience and
is televised, complete with public defecations of car bits. Simms would
have seen what O'Connor and Crews were up to, for all three authors
agree that American materialism has become grotesque and bizarre, car-
ried as it is to the absurd extreme. For Simms to see it in his day is truly
remarkable.
In providing an example of the mind-set of society in 1851,
Simms cites the example of a court case in which a witness is asked
why he deems a certain man respectable. His answer is that the fellow
"keeps a gig." Upon the tombstones of such practical men, Simms says
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