Rereading Charles Simic

Well, I returned my Ginsberg. Dropped off the books at the Blue Springs North branch the day before the move. The librarians there showed his Collected as outstanding, still checked out, so I called from the new house for some one to check the shelf. Must’ve been a hard book to miss, considering its mass.

After switching my home for holds and pick-ups to Independence South, I ordered off the top of my head from a few of the poets who have had an influence on my work, or who I wanted to get to know better, and from the small pile that resulted started with an old friend, Charles Simic, 2007 poet laureate of the United States. His 2019 collection Come Closer and Listen released last year. Born in 1938, Simic is 82.

Here’s a favorite from the book:

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Something about the strangeness of this juxtaposition of Elvis and evil, the weird blend of Americana and the macabre, really hit home for me. Noted, not every poem in the collection did; age 81, Simic was probably fearless, not even afraid to miss.

I’m in between manuscripts right now. My project on Saint Augustine, COVID-19, seven-month-old daughter Naomi Mira is roughly done, feels like I’ve polished now for perhaps the last time. Not that COVID-19 is over. Or even that I finished reading Confessions by Saint Augustine. But there’s a whole lot of sermonizing in Book X. It’s been a while since anything happened.

Returning to my pantheon of poet saints for refreshment is a great way to rediscover the love of poetry after the ordeal of book building. Revisiting my assumptions of what a poem is and how it’s made with a glance over my shoulder and a look for the road ahead. Yesterday I had an experience I want to describe as Simician, visiting the abandoned Independence Station with Theo.

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I jotted down some notes. Later, during naptime, I tried to compose a poem, but nothing really resulted. For one thing, I couldn’t get Simic out of my head. The setting of a deserted train stop, for one thing, the turquoise pigeon haunting its rafters. I wanted so badly to flip into the mind of the pigeon and see myself, my son, from its eyes, wanting us out of there. Not that that’s wrong, just speculative, surreal. And why couldn’t the bird have been glad for our company? Simic, that’s why. His pessimistic eastern European surrealism. Against which my work’s always been grounded in the autobiographical real of my family and its locale.

Next, the possibilities seemed to multiply. I heard, “I crib in a cramped parking lot,” yes, good alliteration, but what does crib mean? “A cramped parking lot / mostly handicapped,” great, so I’m writing another cancer disability poem, and do I really want to go there? “Welcome to the Historic Truman Depot,” I copied from a sign. “Welcome Whitman. Hello Thoreau,” I thought, but that’s pretty loaded and how committed am I to resurrecting these locomotive-relevant ghosts from America’s literary canon? Fleshing out some sort of commentary? Not very.

How superficial am I? During a Zoom session with a few poets I used to workshop with, I noticed how the experiments I started last summer with collage and jitteriness, leaping from one thing to another with thin language links in between, as one group member pointed out, may have impaired my powers of concentration, that is, sustained attention to just one thing, say, an evil pigeon, and is that really what this poem is about? The difficulties I have driving, my inexperience in the kitchen that led to a botched dinner this week with Lili sick and awaiting test results for COVID-19 feel more personal, fertile areas for exploration, but where’s the connection to the Independence Station and a rotting railcar?

No summary is needed, just time, and further study, say, another poet in my pile.

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