Featured Reviews, VOLUME 6

Charles Simic – New and Selected Poems: 1962-2012 [Review]

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0547928289″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41LbU5q8yAL.jpg” width=”220″ alt=”Charles Simic”]Prose Poems Composed in Lieu of Sleep

A Review of

New and Selected Poems: 1962-2012
Charles Simic

Hardback: HMH Books, 2013.
Buy now:   [ [easyazon-link asin=”0547928289″ locale=”us”]Amazon[/easyazon-link] ]  [ [easyazon-link asin=”B008LQ237I” locale=”us”]Kindle[/easyazon-link] ]
 
Reviewed by J. Ted Voigt

 

The world of Charles Simic’s poetry is full of night but no sleep, nakedness but no romance, and god but no faith.  These strands weave through not only the small section of new poetry but this entire volume of Simic’s selected works.
 
This book is an impressive collection, if for no other reason than this: here in one volume we see over fifty years of work.  In the same span of time, sixty-seven sovereign nations were formed.  When the first of these poems were published, it most likely involved at least one typewriter.  Now you can buy the whole collection, plus fourteen of his previous books, for an e-reader of your choice.  How things have changed for Charles Simic’s craft during his career.


 
Collections of new and selected poems can show us a lot about a poet, especially those spanning a half-century career.  This collection, for example, shows that Charles Simic has suffered from insomnia.  For decades.  Though suffered may not be the right word, as it seems to be a part of his creative process; in a way perhaps he benefits from it.  Nonetheless it is clear, he does not get much sleep.
 
And for that we should all give thanks.
 
Here are the first few lines of a poem in his “New Poems” section called “The Starry Night”:

 

Taken as a whole, it’s a mystery.

An apparent order concealing a disorder

That would shake us to the core

Where we ever to grasp its senselessness,

Its infinite raging madness,

            Which, for all we know, may be contagious

And explains our terror

 

I don’t need to celebrate Simic’s sharp, abstract prose-poem style here, he’s been celebrated plenty, having received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Pulitzer, and a term as US Poet Laureate, among many other honors.  This collection of Charles Simic’s work is not only a great introduction to a great poet, but it also makes a great gateway book to the genre.  My recommendation, if you’re reading this review but not sure if you want to read 384 pages of poetry, is to start with the last section, Simic’s previously uncollected poems.  You will find them endearingly odd, original, and enticing.  Here is another passage from “New Poems” titled “The Future”

 

It must have a reason for concealing

Its many surprises from us,

And that reason must have something to do

With either compassion or malice.

I know that most of us fear it,

And that surely is the explanation

We’ve never been properly introduced,

Though we are neighbors

Who run into each other often

By accident and then stand there

Speechless and embarrassed,

Before pretending to be distracted

By some children walking to school,

A pigeon pecking at pizza crust

Next to a hearse filled with flowers

Parked in front of a small, gray church.

 

Charles Simic’s style leaves us wondering if his work is the result of a superhuman imagination, one that works full time instead of sleeping, or if he simply observes and records.  Either could be the case, and neither makes us enjoy him any less.




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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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