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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Charles Simic - A Poetic Journey

Charles Simic did not speak English till he was fifteen. He was born on May 9, 1938 in former Yugoslavia and his family moved to the US in 1954. In 2007, he was appointed the fifteenthPoet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 2007 by the Congress.

He is an imagist and a minimalist who writes about his experiences in a language that is at once bare and appealing to the inner chords of the readers and resonates for long after.

About his work, a reviewer for the Harvard Review said, "There are few poets writing in America today who share his lavish appetite for the bizarre, his inexhaustible repertoire of indelible characters and gestures ... Simic is perhaps our most disquieting muse."

He is loathe to write on demand and writes when the muse strikes, using plain words, bizarre events and characters. When he was appointed the Poet Laureate Consultant, James H Billingotn, the Librarian of Congree wrote:

The range of Charles Simic's imagination is evident in his stunning and unusual imagery. He handles language with the skill of a master craftsman, yet his poems are easily accessible, often meditative and surprising. He has given us a rich body of highly organized poetry with shades of darkness and flashes of ironic humor."

Billington continues:

For those who haven't read Simic already, you're in for a treat. His poetry is ebullient and bizarre, rife with breathtaking images, and cultured allusions to both the arcane and the mundane things that make up the daily trafficking of our lives. You're as likely to meet a loquacious insect in Simic's poetry as you are the philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas or a dilapidated volume of Shelley's verse, and all of them have equally mesmerizing and opinionated insights into the give and take of our days and ways.

Take this passage from "Evening Walk":

You give the appearance of listening
To my thoughts, O trees,
Bent over the road I am walking
On a late summer evening
When every one of you is a steep staircase
The night is slowly descending.

Or this from "Grayheaded Schoolchildren":

Old men have bad dreams,
So they sleep little.
They walk on bare feet
Without turning on the light,
Or they stand leaning
On gloomy furniture
Listening to their hearts beat.

You can get caught up in these poems, haunted for days by an image, torn asunder by a line. This is the mark of a great poet, that he or she can speak so directly and so poignantly to our realities, even when the words chosen come from the realm of the wonderful, the magical, the surreal, the thoroughly unexpected.In his first ever online interview he had this to say in response to the question: what is the hardest thing for you to write about?

Everything is hard to write about. Many of my shortest and seemingly simple poems took years to get right. I tinker with most of my poems even after publication. I expect to be revising in my coffin as it is being loweredinto the ground.

This is something I empathise with and friends with whom I share my working poems know it - sometimes to the point of exasperation. A poet's job is never done.

It is not about perfectionism, even though it does play a role. A certain moment. a certain feeling or idea needs precise words and structure to depict and deliver. Even a comma or a word can tumble the rolling stone, leading to a crescendo wreaking havoc. (Please treat this as a digression from a small time poet.)

In addition to the Grayheaded Schoolchildren quoted earlier i will share one more of his poem Watermelons:

Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.


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