A review of That Little Something by Charles Simic

Reviewed by Bob Williams

That Little Something
by Charles Simic
Harcourt 
2008, ISBN 878-0-15-101358-3. $23.00, 73 pages

A collection of new poems from the poet laureate of the United States is an event when the poet is Charles Simic, author of many books of poetry and a writer who is conscientious in his use of the familiar to take us to mysterious and often frightening places.

The titles in this collection, which occasionally function as a poem’s first line, are important since they define Simic’s targets. They are in themselves magically evocative after the manner of Wallace Stevens. There are these titles to delight and surprise: ‘Death’s Book of Jokes,’ ‘Fiordiligi,’ ‘Impersonator of Blank Walls,’ or ‘Aunt Dinah Sailed to China.’

Simic divides the collection into four parts. In the first he gives us poems of ingenuity, serious games that take the dirt of the street to open on eternities and ineffabilities:

TO BOREDOM

I am the child of your rainy Sundays

I watched time crawl

Over the ceiling

Like a wounded fly.

A day would last forever,

Making pellets of bread,

Waiting for a branch

On a bare tree to move.

The silence would deepen,

The sky would darken,

As grandmother knitted

With a ball of black yarn.

Heaven is like that.

In eternity’s classrooms,

The angels sit like bored children

With their heads bowed.

But in the second part he gets down in the dirt with many of us, and grips some of life’s immediate problems by the throat. This is the opening verse of ‘Dance of the Macabre Mice:’

The president smiles to himself; he loves war

And another one is coming soon.

Each day we can feel the merriment mount

In government offices and TV studios

As our bombers fly off to distant countries.

In the third part the tone is still mysterious but more personal:

SECRET HISTORY

Of the light in my room;

Its mood swings,

Dark-morning glooms,

Summer ecstasies.

Spider on the wall,

Lamp burning late,

Shoes left by the bed,

I’m you humble scribe.

Dust balls, simple souls

Conferring in the corner.

The pearl earring she lost,

Still to be found.

Silence of falling snow,

Nights vanishing without trace,

Only to return.

I’m your humble scribe.

And the fourth part is divided between many short meditations on Eternities and one longer – but still short – poem called ‘Eternity’s Orphans.’

The penetrating quality of his work speaks for itself, but – in addition to its humor and honesty – there is all-pervading grace. This arrests the reader and creates for him or her a memorable experience. Simic is a true poet in the classical manner, one capable of making the new from things that always were.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places

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