Book Review: Cast Off by Daniel Simon


cast offCast Off
Daniel Simon

62 pages
Edwin E. Smith Publishing, September 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0991090488

Reviewed by Hélène Cardona

Daniel Simon’s Harvest of Words “Tilled into Existence”

Daniel Simon’s rich language and bristling erudition permeate Cast Off, a poetry collection composed of thirty-three superbly crafted poems, which take us on a remarkable, unexpected journey towards ecstasy. It begins in the Paris catacombs, where he explores the themes of night and death that recur throughout the book:

“In Paris, l’indispensable maps our night tour of the catacombs
where not one skull but thousands are arrayed like stones
in a mosaic.

The narrator walks “on bones buried in cathedral floors, / the labyrinth is both guide and trap – wayfaring feet stray / among temptations on either side of the path.”

Reading the sequence of poems under Simon’s guidance is like following Ariadne’s thread. Together we experience lost worlds in the journey to find home and truth.

“Neither descent nor ascent but errance
even the finest map merely the approximation of truth,
the mind’s shades of knowing wavering like a compass needle,
the sinew of lightness like air between the bones.”

Simon is a “word doctor who, “like an ember / on the mind’s façade – / sets language on fire,” a shaman firmly steeped in the land, forever harvesting:

we root ourselves in place,
letting the sap rise into
sons and daughters
less for blossom and birdsong
than for the return of spring,
proving that winterkill
within can yet be pruned
into one more rebirth.”

At the heart of the book lies a quest for joy, love, to be fully alive in a “transubstantiated body,a “body you wrought like a spasm of becoming in your hands,” having experienced and transcended darkness. After Paris, we follow on a “Night Train to Prague.” In Vienna, Simon almost / misses (his) connection, / hopping off the wrong train at the last minute” on his way

“North toward Prague under cloak of night,
city of Kafka’s birth and Mozart’s mirth,
Kundera’s forgetting and Palach’s burning,
while the velvet revolution crouches underground.”

Moving forward with “the pulse / of memory’s contraction” and “undulating consciousness,” the poems pluck “along the path, less keeping than relinquishing time. /  More syncope than symphony, a call-and-response into the fading light.”

Daniel Simon writes “poems in a lost tongue,” using language that is “all grammatical synapses firing, / their syntax lithe and muscular,” like “the systole / diastole of memory,” recalling Proust when recounting “the whole cloth of experience / threaded through needles of forgetting / Penelope-like fingers that shuttle / across the rememberepast.”

Sifting through geography, history, literature and memory, this book is a tribute to family love and the human capacity to persevere in a broken world and redefine ourselves. It bears witness to the “wounds sand-abraded” and “uncoated truths.” It speaks of “knowledge not known / but flown, a knowing drawn / from the world’s rocky breasts.” Simon’s pen, like “embers of fire melting winter’s vestige,” becomes “a single flame cered by devotion.“Standing back from the precipice,” it “permits us to leap, untethered, into the unknown” and ultimately leads to rebirth.

“When life writes itself into consciousness
the expectant self, rapt in absorption,
seeks a new birth in expulsion,
leaving lines behind.”

It shows us “the way home / a promise / of eternal return,” and is an unearthly gift,

the world in a single touch.
raptive, sky-torn,
not flowing but drowning,
in this atmosphere –
breathless, bowed down, blown.”


Hélène Cardona is a poet, literary translator, and actor, the recipient of numerous awards and honors including a Hemingway Grant and the USA Best Book Award. Her books include three bilingual poetry collections, most recently Life in Suspension (Salmon Poetry, 2016) and Dreaming My Animal Selves (Salmon Poetry, 2013); and two translations: Beyond Elsewhere (White Pine Press, 2016), and Ce que nous portons (Editions du Cygne, 2014). She also translated Walt Whitman’s Civil War Writings for the Iowa International Writing Program’s WhitmanWeb.

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