This Old Poem #109:
Charles Simic’s Eyes Fastened With Pins
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 7/22/05
Charles Simic is 1 of those niche-poets whose niche is not something
really worth defending. He is primarily known as a proem writer, rather than a
poet, for his proems, while nowhere near the class of a Georg Trakl or Rainer
Maria Rilke, are still several cuts above his actual poesy. Even a poet pal of
mine named Cindra Halm, notoriously silent on criticizing others, admits she
detests Simic’s poems but finds his proems engaging.
Simply put, his poems lack depth, formal tightness, music, & any real meaning or reason for being written, other than, possibly, being a way to kill time by breaking prose into lines.
Here’s the dread online bio:
Charles Simic was born on May 9, 1938, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. In 1953 he left Yugoslavia with his mother and brother to join his father in the United States. They lived in and around Chicago until 1958. His first poems were published in 1959, when he was twenty-one. In 1961 he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and in 1966 he earned his Bachelor's degree from New York University. His first full-length collection of poems, What the Grass Says, was published the following year. Since then he has published more than sixty books in the U.S. and abroad, among them Jackstraws (Harcourt Brace, 1999), which was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times; Walking the Black Cat (Harcourt Brace, 1996), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry; A Wedding in Hell (1994); Hotel Insomnia (1992); The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems (1990), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Selected Poems: 1963-1983 (1990); and Unending Blues (1986). He has also published many translations of French, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, and Slovenian poetry, and four books of essays, most recently Orphan Factory (University of Michigan Press, 1998). He was also the guest editor of The Best American Poetry 1992. Elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets in 2000, his many awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Since 1973 he has lived in New Hampshire, where he is Professor of English at the University of New Hampshire.
Oh, yes. I
forgot to tell you that he was a political refugee. Aside from being a proem
write being a political refugee is his greatest claim to fame in the poetry
world. He’s sort of a younger, sunnier Czeslaw Milosz, in a sense- save he has
not witnessed the horrors that the great ‘poet of pain’ has.
Of course, all that refugee nonsense has long been subsumed by his greater renown as a typical Academician. Here’s a poem typical of his oeuvre:
without knocking, hard-working ant.
You can count
the clichés- the more important thing to note is the utter lack of any real
music. Furthermore, look at the phrasing- is there anything in the least poetic?
By that I don’t mean the use of poeticisms like desire, the silence, or
wild-beating, but the actual turn of phrases to leave something fresh in the
niches of the mind.
Elementally, this is why CS is not even really a proemist, as his proems are merely paragraphs of prose that try to end with a heightened flourish. His poems are even worse.
Ok. Now, a
W.B. Yeats might be able to get away with publishing a throwaway poem like this
in his Collected Poems, but a non-entity like CS? No. These are just
‘observations’ that do not even rise to the simple level of basic haiku.
Here’s another ‘poem’:
mail truck goes down the coast
Carrying a single letter.
Last night you thought you heard television
This morning, it felt like Sunday.
The last 2 lines are the best part of the poem. But who is ever going to read through the banal imagery (not even metaphor) to get to that point? Here’s the poem in question:
Eyes Fastened With Pins
much death works,
Death as a plebe. This is a nice conceit, but look at the utter banality of the references. To try to portray Death as 1 of the boys requires more than merely substituting Death for Larry or Jake as a name. In my rewrite I am not gonna add things that would Schneiderize the poem, merely trim it to its essence so that a CS or someone else can see what could be added & fleshed out in a real poem.
Eyes Fastened With Pins
one knows what a long
The beautiful daughters.
Death, in a strange part of town.
A dime to call the one pining away,
4 tercets & a lot more give & play to the narrative. We get Death as a typical guy, but we also are left to fill in a lot. This is addition by subtraction- a classic way to improve an overwritten poem. Also, the stanzaic breaks allow the images & ideas a slight breather to sink in. This, also, allows for reader imbuement. Inviting participation in the arts is always a good thing to do. That CS, & your typical Academic, refuse to do so speaks much of their life, & what they’ve gotten wrong.
Final Score: (1-100):
Charles Simic’s Eyes
Fastened With Pins: 50
TOP’s Eyes Fastened With Pins: 70
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