Monday, March 4, 2013

New and Selected Poems: 1962-2012 by Charles Simic

New and Selected Poems: 1962-2012New and Selected Poems: 1962-2012 by Charles Simic
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Why I read it: I'm always trying to familiar myself more with living poets, and was pretty unfamiliar with this guy.

I was vaguely aware of Simic as a poet, although I'm not sure I could rattle off any of his lines off the top of my head, so I was happy to take a look at this volume of new and selected poems from NetGalley. The book contains almost four hundred pages of poems selected from various past publications - Selected Early Poems, Unending Blues, The World Doesn't End, The Book of Gods and Devils, Hotel Insomnia, A Wedding in Hell, Walking the Black Cat, Jackstraws, Night Picnic: Poems, My Noiseless Entourage, That Little Something, Master of Disguises, The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems, as well as a selection of new poems. As the subtitle states, these span five decades as well, which is quite the poetic career. Simic was born in Serbia but the poems originate in English, although sometimes his sense of being an outsider comes through.

To get a sense of these poems, I'd like to start at the end. Something he said in one of the new poems struck me as being fairly descriptive of the themes of his poems and poetic outlook in general. This is the last stanza in "Things Need Me:"
Dead alarm clock, empty birdcage, piano I never play,
I'll be your waiter tonight
Ready to take your order,
And you'll be my distinguished dinner guests,
Each one with a story to tell.
Throughout his poems, he seems to imagine the possibilities of what objects had experienced, the potential for story in the people he encounters, and reflecting on events that touched his life in some way. One powerful poem had his birth set within the feelings and emotions of the beginning of World War II.

One thing I always wonder about anthologies or "selected works of X" is what is being left out? How is something chosen for inclusion? Ever since I fell in love with a Teasdale poem that was not included even in her "complete works," I've read poetry volumes with a critical eye. Whether or not it was intentional, I noticed a lot of flies, and a lot of libraries, in the poems that were included.

My favorites were Late Arrival, Filthy Landscape (about a meadow), Eternity's Orphans, In the Library, Evening Talk (reminded me of a friend), and My Secret Identity Is (a tiny tiny two line poem, three if you count the title.)

from "In the Library:"
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She's very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

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