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:

This Morning

Enter without knocking, hard-working ant.
I'm just sitting here mulling over
What to do this dark, overcast day?
It was a night of the radio turned down low,
Fitful sleep, vague, troubling dreams.
I woke up lovesick and confused.
I thought I heard Estella in the garden singing
And some bird answering her,
But it was the rain. Dark tree tops swaying
And whispering. "Come to me my desire,"
I said. And she came to me by and by,
Her breath smelling of mint, her tongue
Wetting my cheek, and then she vanished.
Slowly day came, a gray streak of daylight
To bathe my hands and face in.
Hours passed, and then you crawled
Under the door, and stopped before me.
You visit the same tailors the mourners do,
Mr. Ant. I like the silence between us,
The quiet--that holy state even the rain
Knows about. Listen to her begin to fall,
As if with eyes closed,
Muting each drop in her wild-beating heart.

  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.


Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.

  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’:

Late September

The mail truck goes down the coast
Carrying a single letter.
At the end of a long pier
The bored seagull lifts a leg now and then
And forgets to put it down.
There is a menace in the air
Of tragedies in the making.

Last night you thought you heard television
In the house next door.
You were sure it was some new
Horror they were reporting,
So you went out to find out.
Barefoot, wearing just shorts.
It was only the sea sounding weary
After so many lifetimes
Of pretending to be rushing off somewhere
And never getting anywhere.

This morning, it felt like Sunday.
The heavens did their part
By casting no shadow along the boardwalk
Or the row of vacant cottages,
Among them a small church
With a dozen gray tombstones huddled close
As if they, too, had the shivers.

  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

How much death works,
No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone
Ironing death's laundry.
The beautiful daughters
Setting death's supper table.
The neighbors playing
Pinochle in the backyard
Or just sitting on the steps
Drinking beer. Death,
Meanwhile, in a strange
Part of town looking for
Someone with a bad cough,
But the address somehow wrong,
Even death can't figure it out
Among all the locked doors...
And the rain beginning to fall.
Long windy night ahead.
Death with not even a newspaper
To cover his head, not even
A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
And stretching naked
On death's side of the bed.

  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

No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone.

The beautiful daughters.
The neighbors playing
Or just sitting on the steps.

Death, in a strange part of town.
The address somehow wrong,
Among all the locked doors...

A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
On death's side of the bed.

  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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