The Renegade: Writings on Poetry and a Few Other Things

Overview

The fifteenth U.S. Poet Laureate collects his latest essays on subjects ranging from poetry to his childhood years in Belgrade.
In these essays, Charles Simic delves into the lives and work of poets, novelists, artists, and playwrights, beginning with his own experiences before turning to those of Christopher Marlowe, Odilon Redon, W. S. Sebald, Louise Glu¨ck, and many more. Throughout he celebrates the renegade spirit, whether it inspires a rogue ant to depart from his ...

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Overview

The fifteenth U.S. Poet Laureate collects his latest essays on subjects ranging from poetry to his childhood years in Belgrade.
In these essays, Charles Simic delves into the lives and work of poets, novelists, artists, and playwrights, beginning with his own experiences before turning to those of Christopher Marlowe, Odilon Redon, W. S. Sebald, Louise Glu¨ck, and many more. Throughout he celebrates the renegade spirit, whether it inspires a rogue ant to depart from his prescribed path or a poet to write unfashionably honest verse.Simic brings the personal worlds of each writer and artist to life, discussing their friends, homes, influences, and the rooms that shaped their outlooks. His portraits urge the reader to regard writers and artists as protean, fallible men and women rather than as immutable icons, and he reveals the key turning points in the creative lives of his subjects, noting their creative failures as often as he does their successes. He is unflinching in his analyses of even the most beloved cultural figures, following his enthralling praises with unforgettable, piercing critiques.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

U.S. poet laureate Simic casts his knowing eye over a range of subjects in 16 biographical/critical pieces, many originally published in the New York Review of Books and other journals. In the opening, autobiographical piece, Simic, born in 1938, recalls his Belgrade, Yugoslavia, childhood unsentimentally ("I had a happy childhood despite droning planes, deafening explosions, and people hung from lampposts. I mean, it's not like I knew better...."), and continues with his arrival in America as a teenager and how his growing distaste for Serbian nationalism turned him into a renegade. Simic then roves outward to figures such as the misunderstood and underappreciated E.A. Robinson; melancholy Robert Creeley of Black Mountain Review fame; surrealist-inspired Yves Bonnefoy; and fellow U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall. He examines the endless quirks of Witold Gombrowicz, the eclectic originality of W.G. Sebald and certainly one of the greatest artistic renegades anywhere, Christopher Marlowe. Also among these elegant, penetrating writings are essays on a MoMA exhibit of Dada and on Whitman, not to mention a memorable segue on the world's worst haircut. (Apr.)

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Library Journal

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Simic (The World Doesn't End) collects his recent reviews and essays, which together give a good understanding of his concepts of poetry, writing, morality, and the imagination. His writings on Robert Creeley and Donald Hall set the parameters for his ideas of what poetry should be. He discusses, among other authors, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Louise GlA'ck, Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Carson, Yves Bonnefoy, and Zbigniew Herbert. Simic's readings of poetry are lucid and nuanced and explain why he considers some poems and books successful as art. Included are personal observations and reflections; especially good is his "Reading About Utopia in New York City." He reviews the dada artists and Odilon Redon and discusses works by Daniel Mendelsohn and Witold Gombrowicz and plays of Christopher Marlowe. Simic explains his likes and dislikes and allows the reader to make a fair judgment. Recommended for literature collections.
—Gene Shaw

The Barnes & Noble Review

Charles Simic, last year's poet laureate, author of 60-odd books of poetry and prose and the poetry editor at the Paris Review, begins this collection of essays with a story about a great-uncle, who left the family tribe in Serbia to emigrate to America. Simic describes him this way: "[He] was like one of those ants who, coming upon a line of marching ants, turns and goes the opposite direction for reasons of his own. Ants being ants, this is not supposed to happen, but sometimes it does and no one knows why." Simic, born Serbian, but in America since he was 15, clearly relates to his great-uncle's wild-ant sensibility, and uses it as a parable for his outlook on both poetry and life. Simic is perplexed by what makes us set out in the unpredictable direction, or vary the most obvious course. And because for him this less obvious course can lead us towards justice, towards greater individual humanity, and also at times towards good poetry, it is worthwhile to ponder the reasons why we head out.

The essays which follow show Simic doggedly plowing through whole collected works to trying to find what makes a poem or poet stray from the ordinary fields where mortals mainly pasture. Fittingly, Simic prefers a few good poems to any fat collected -- though of course his own output is somewhat prodigious, and, in this volume at least, copy-edited with variable skill. In essays whose titles themselves could be clues about how to live as a renegade poet (or really as a writer at all) he explores "The Power of Reticence," "The Powers of Invention" -- and, inclusively, "The Power of Ruins," right next to "Make it New." He examines poets who themselves have suffered as outcasts --like Edward Arlington Robinson and Elizabeth Bishop -- as well as heading off into different terrain of his own fancy, examining the unexpected moment that led Daniel Mendelsohn to return to the village where his family lived before the Holocaust. Simic values poetry that can "recall to us the life we share and the experience we have in common." Yet he also values the moment when we stray from what is merely common, to produce what is surely not.

--Tess Taylor

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807615942
  • Publisher: Braziller, George Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 226
  • Sales rank: 1,404,486
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Simic was born in Belgrade. He is a United States Poet Laureate, an essayist and translator. His 1990 collection, The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in New Hampshire.

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