Master of Disguises

Master of Disguises

by Charles Simic
     
 

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In his first volume of poetry since his tenure as poet laureate, Charles Simic shows he is at the height of his poetic powers. These new poems mine the rich strain of inscrutability in ordinary life, until it is hard to know what is innocent and what ominous. There is something about his work that continues to be crystal clear and yet deeply weighted with violence

Overview

In his first volume of poetry since his tenure as poet laureate, Charles Simic shows he is at the height of his poetic powers. These new poems mine the rich strain of inscrutability in ordinary life, until it is hard to know what is innocent and what ominous. There is something about his work that continues to be crystal clear and yet deeply weighted with violence and mystery. Reading it is like going undercover. The face of a girl carrying a white dress from the cleaners with her eyes half-closed. The Adam & Evie Tanning Salon at night. A sparrow on crutches. A rubber duck in a shooting gallery on a Sunday morning. And someone in a tree swing, too old to be swinging and to be wearing no clothes at all, blowing a toy trumpet at the sky.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This 20th collection from the former U.S. poet laureate (My Noiseless Entourage) departs only by degrees from his poems of earlier decades--but it could just be his best book. Like most of Simic's work, these new poems end up short and sad, setting mysterious, wry, even Kafkaesque, scenes in which nobody gets what anyone wants: "A dark little country store full of gravediggers' children buying candy./ (That's how we looked that night.)" Simic served as laureate in the last years of the Bush administration, and some of his new poems may reflect that experience: they attack, with a pessimistic asperity, callous military officers, bloodthirsty states and unnecessary wars, along with a weary or cynical America: "the TV is on in the living room,/ Canned laughter in the empty house/ Like the sound of beer cans tied to a coffin." Simic alludes quietly to the war-ravaged Serbia he fled as a child. But the "ragged puppets" who populate Simic's stanzas are not always so foredoomed: in an 11-part sequence called "The Invisible," Simic modulates into a restrained and deeply moving lyric lament, admiring a dragonfly for his clear wings, a crow who was once "a professor of philosophy," and a "Bird comforting the afflicted/ With your song." (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"This 20th collection from the former U.S. poet laureate (My Noiseless Entourage) departs only by degrees from his poems of earlier decades—but it could just be his best book." —Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
Library Journal
Simic (Night Picnic), the prolific Serbian American author and winner of numerous awards, here confirms that he is still the poet of overlooked details and everyday objects. In many of Simic's poems, an event seemingly needs to be elucidated. And in his skilled collaging and juxtaposition of unrelated images, the poet acts as assembler of tiny shards of unfinished story. War, and particularly the poet's childhood memories of it, breathes throughout and is felt in the background as a sole narrator or a mere whisperer of its passage: " Nothing ever happens here/ except for these foreign wars/ that maim the young boys/ and leave their golden girls/ to hustle drinks in local dives." Simic's plain yet elusive language is freighted with a rich web of references ranging from folktales, myths, and fables to historical and autobiographical asides. He mixes humor with seriousness and deploys comedy in the bitterest of situations to create the sense of detachment needed to write sharp-eyed poetry. In the end, his voice echoes the Romantic dream of reconciling poetic language with everyday speech. His forwardness and the exact treatment of his objects are reminiscent of the works of William Carlos Williams. VERDICT As always, Simic brings to light the richness of life's objects and thus embraces a vital task of poetry. Recommended for all readers.—Sadiq Alkoriji, South Regional Lib., Broward Cty., FL

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547504537
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
10/06/2010
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
96
File size:
106 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Invisible One

You read today about a child
Kept for years in a closet
By his crazy parents
On a street you walked often.

Busy with your own troubles,
You saw little, heard nothing
Of what was said around you,
As you made your way home

Past loving young couples
Carrying flowers and groceries,
Pushing baby carriages,
Hanging back to scold a dog.

 

Master of Disguises

Surely, he walks among us unrecognized:
Some barber, store clerk, delivery man,
Pharmacist, hairdresser, bodybuilder,
Exotic dancer, gem cutter, dog walker,
The blind beggar singing, O Lord, remember me,

Some window decorator starting a fake fire
In a fake fireplace while mother and father watch
From the couch with their frozen smiles
As the street empties and the time comes
For the undertaker and the last waiter to head home.

O homeless old man, standing in a doorway
With your face half hidden,
I wouldn't even rule out the black cat crossing the street,
The bare light bulb swinging on a wire
In a subway tunnel as the train comes to a stop.

 

Nineteen Thirty-eight

That was the year the Nazis marched into Vienna,
Superman made his debut in Action Comics,
Stalin was killing off his fellow revolutionaries,
The first Dairy Queen opened in Kankakee, Ill.,
As I lay in my crib peeing in my diapers.

"You must've been a beautiful baby," Bing Crosby sang.
A pilot the newspapers called Wrong Way Corrigan
Took off from New York heading for California
And landed instead in Ireland, as I watched my mother
Take a breast out of her blue robe and come closer.

There was a hurricane that September causing a movie theater
At Westhampton Beach to be lifted out to sea.
People worried the world was about to end.
A fish believed to have been extinct for seventy million years
Came up in a fishing net off the coast of South Africa.

I lay in my crib as the days got shorter and colder,
And the first heavy snow fell in the night
Making everything very quiet in my room.
I thought I heard myself cry for a long, long time.

 

Scenes of the Old Life

Washing hung from the fire escapes.
Boys threw cats from rooftops.
War veterans hopped on crutches,
Pitching pennies and smoking reefers.

Writers destined to remain obscure
Wrote late into the night
Using a pencil and the kind of notebook
Their children took to school in the morning.

Outside a club advertising exotic dancing girls,
A man in a crumpled white suit
Staggered with a knife in his heart,
One dark eyebrow raised in surprise.

In winter, rain fell as if it meant to fall forever.
We kept the gas oven lit to warm ourselves,
While mother cried and cried chopping onions
And my one goldfish swam in a pickle jar.


 

Meet the Author

CHARLES SIMIC was born in Belgrade and emigrated to the United States in 1954. He is the author of many books of poetry and prose. Among other honors, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990 and served as the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2007–2008.

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