Selected Early Poems

Author:Charles Simic

If Charles Simic were an illustrator he'd be Edward Gorey. But he's a poet, forming grim whimsy with words alone. “Everyone has only one leg,” begins “Great Infirmities” in Selected Early Poems, “So difficult to get around, / So difficult to climb the stairs / Without cane or crutch to our name.” With simple language Simic conjures incredible images that wink and bite. “Great Infirmities” concludes: “An intense stillness everywhere / With the trees always bare, / The raindrops coming down only halfway, / Coming so close and then giving up.”

This book collects works penned between 1963–1983, his most complete early selection to date. Fabled outcasts gather in Simic's universe: “a lover whose mouth's the red cottage / Where the wolf ate Grandma,” “a gang of men partying / out of brown paper bags,” “a broom [that] is also a tree / in the orchard of the poor.” His world vibrates with dark wonder, far too earthy to be surreal.

“Black Days” begins: “Fellows, my teeth hurt, / And I've no money to have them pulled. / If you know of a way, tell me.” Simic's scenarios are usually dim, but a black humor often makes light of it all. The poem continues: “The landlord knocked on my window. / My wife sleeps uncovered / So he just stood there staring, Till he forgot what he came for.”

This collection steps between grin and grimace, always landing on an unexpected rhythm. An excerpt from the pastoral “Sunday Morning” sums up Simic's practice, wherein imagination imbues the everyday with silence, sensitivity, a much-needed break from the gloom: “I know all the dark places / Where the sun hasn't reached yet, Where the last cricket / Has just hushed; anthills / Where it sounds like it's raining; / Slumbering spiders spinning wedding dresses... / In the midst of all that quiet / It seems possible / To live simply on this earth.”

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