Poet Jim Simmerman, Regents’ Professor, dies at 54

Jim Simmerman, who spent nearly half his life as an English professor at Northern Arizona University and gained national fame for his poetry, died last week in his Flagstaff home. He was 54.

“Jim was a conscientious instructor and a gifted wordsmith whose publishing career was still at full stride,” said Marty Sommerness, School of Communication professor and long-time friend and colleague. “For those who truly care about what happens in our Mountain Campus classrooms, Jim and his dedication will both be sorely missed.”

Professor Simmerman, named a Regents’ Professor in 2003, was born in Boulder, Colo., on March 5, 1952.

He came to NAU as an instructor in 1978-79 and returned in 1981 after earning a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Iowa. He also has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The son of a career Air Force sergeant, Professor Simmerman grew up in Colorado, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, Massachusetts and England.

Take It Back

Maybe it’s different
with you.
How I grew up
there was always some kid
bigger than me, some lug,
some stupe, some Ronnie Boone
with fuzz over his lip
and those muscles you get
squeezing tennis balls,
skulking on the playground
before homeroom or glued
behind some trees somewhere
I have to pass alone
and-boom-he’s on my chest
like a stump,
slapping me daffy, his knees gouging
gopher holes in my arms
as he croons take it back,
so soft and close and sweet
he could be telling me
a secret or kissing me on the mouth, take it back
if you know what’s good for you

Some things I did I didn’t
take back. I could
say one, embarrass us for all time. Then you
could take your turn, then
somebody else, until
the bullies inside us
get bored and go home;
till we’re each of us smack
on his back by himself
in the same stupid life,
and we do it again-
the whole thing pathetic
as a push-and-go-round
where I stick to my guns,
and stew, and spin-the same
tune repeating itself,
the same verse, the opus
of Ronnie Boone: take it
back, take it back if
you know what’s good for you
Which I don’t though I do.

—Jim Simmerman
Moon Go Away I Don’t Love You No More
Miami University Press (1994)


He is the author of five collections of poetry, including Once Out of NatureHome,American ChildrenKingdom Come and Moon Go Away, I Don’t Love You No More.

Home was picked by Raymond Carver as a Pushcart Writer’s Choice selection in 1984. “These are evocative and beautifully rendered poems,” Carver said in his Pushcart citation. “Time and again I found myself stopping to draw breath, moved and sometimes startled at the aching rightness of the image, the felicity of the line. Simmerman is clearly among the best poets of his generation.”

Allen Woodman, interim chair of the English Department said, “The English Department is sad about it all. Jim started our graduate creative writing program at NAU. He was a major influence on poetry in Arizona and elsewhere. He loved poetry and stray dogs. He will be missed by his friends and students.”

Professor Simmerman co-edited with Joseph Duemer Dog Music: Poetry About Dogs and has produced chapbooks of his poetry, includingYoyo and Bad Weather. His work also has been included in many journals and anthologies.

Professor Simmerman was the recipient of fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Fine Arts Work Center, the Port Townsend Writers’ Workshop and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Jim Simmerman was the first poetry teacher I’d ever had and the best one,” said James Jay, friend and local poet. “His focus and commitment to teaching poetry as a hard fought worthwhile and important venture continues to remain an inspiration for me.”

Professor Simmerman is survived by his parents, Wade and Jane Simmerman; brother Jeffry Simmerman and Jeffry’s wife, Shelly, and six nephews and nieces.

A celebration of Professor Simmerman’s life and work is planned for mid-August, but details are not yet available.

The family requests that donations be made to the Coconino Humane Association, PO Box 66, Flagstaff, AZ 86002.