Thinking about Charles Simic


I first met Charles Simic through his book, Dime-Store Alchemy, that gorgeous, gorgeous cover which lived in the window of the Grolier Poetry Bookshop. I walked by that cover every morning on my way to work. It was the early 90's and poetry was just beginning to be part of my world, before I'd decided to do an MFA, before I'd published my first book, before I could see a life in poetry. And though I didn't "understand" this book, I was obsessed.

I have bought this book several times as it seems to always be disappearing. In the early 90's, I had never seen a book with this color on the cover, I'd never read a prose poem, or heard of Joseph Cornell. This all seems impossible looking back, but this book was a unicorn. There was no other American surrealist that I had ever heard of and the ekphrastic tradition of poets finding inspiration in the visual arts, was, if not exactly frowned on, it certainly was not in vogue. I read and reread this book. I still do.

A friend of mine had a husband who had studied with Simic at the University of New Hampshire and adored him. This week's piece in The Yale Review by Megan O'Rourke gives a moving homage to her mentor, friend, and dinner companion. (You can find it here)

Oh, yes, and of course, Pulitzer Prize winning poet. I just found this video of Simic reading his poem "Stone" and for a moment, he comes alive again. 

The great poets I grew up on: Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Seamus Heaney, W.S. Merwin, Derek Walcott, and now, Charles Simic, are all gone now. The people, not the poems. 

I did not know Charlie Simic the man who loved dessert enough to order all the desserts on the menu for a table of four. I didn't even know the term "surrealist" when I first encountered his work. I have been  an admirer from afar.

"In the Library," is another of my favorite of his poems but I am discovering more favorites all the time.

For example, this haiku:

My Secret Identity

The room is empty

And the window is open


There now, where the first crumb

Falls from the table

You think no one hears it.

As it hits the floor,

But somewhere already

The ants are putting on 

their quaker hats

And setting out to visit you.

If you don't know the work of Charles Simic, checkout his work. Buy one of his many books. If you do know his work, give yourself the gift of getting reacquainted.