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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.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.