Sixty Poems

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Here are sixty of Charles Simic's best known poems, collected to celebrate his appointment as the fifteenth Poet Laureate of the United States.

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Sixty Poems

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Here are sixty of Charles Simic's best known poems, collected to celebrate his appointment as the fifteenth Poet Laureate of the United States.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The range of Charles Simic's imagination is evident in his stunning and unusual imagery. He handles language with the skill of a master craftsman, yet his poems are easily accessible, often meditative and surprising. He has given us a rich body of highly organized poetry with shades of darkness and flashes of ironic humor."—James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress  

"[Simic] draws on the dark satire of Central Europe, the sensual rhapsody of Latin America, and the fraught juxtapositions of French Surrealism, to create a style like nothing else in American literature. Yet [his] verse remains recognizably American—not just in its grainy, hard-boiled textures, straight out of 1940s film noir, but in the very confidence of its eclecticism."—Adam Kirsch, New York Sun

KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Simic is the Poet Laureate of the United States, and his poetry is accessible to nearly all readers, even those not so comfortable with poetry. He writes about travels to foreign places, and walks in nearby woods: "You give the appearance of listening / To my thoughts, O trees, / Bent over the road I am walking / On a late summer evening / When every one of you is a steep staircase / The night is slowly descending." The poems here have been collected from eight different volumes of his poems, published between 1986 and 2005. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
Library Journal

Not only has Simic recently been appointed the 15th poet laureate of the United States, but he has also received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, a MacArthur Fellowship, and the Academy of American Poets' Wallace Stevens Award. Spanning about 20 years, from Simic's first book, Unending Blues(1986), to his latest, My Noiseless Entourage(2005), this collection represents some of Simic's best-loved poems. A pastiche bringing together disparate elements from Simic's childhood in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, to his adulthood in New Hampshire, these haunting poems look at the indifference to spiritual values that characterizes contemporary life. With borrowings from novels, children's books, and other poems, this book is reminiscent of art by Maurice Sendak. Like Sendak, Simic is adept at probing the emotional texture of dark moments. Playful, ironic, eerie, and dreamlike, the poems are accessible, although they have a surrealistic bent. As the poet roots into the unconscious mind, toys talk and ghosts appear, yet, surprisingly, the poems feel grounded because of Simic's eye for the evocative and just-right image. Highly recommended for all libraries.
—Diane Scharper

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156035644
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/7/2008
  • Pages: 108
  • Sales rank: 985,653
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

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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Read an Excerpt

From Unending Blues, 1986

toward nightfall

for Don and Jane

The weight of tragic events

On everyone’s back,

Just as tragedy

In the proper Greek sense

Was thought impossible

To compose in our day.

There were scaffolds,

Makeshift stages,

Puny figures on them,

Like small indistinct animals

Caught in the headlights

Crossing the road way ahead,

In the gray twilight

That went on hesitating

On the verge of a huge

Starless autumn night.

One could’ve been in

The back of an open truck

Hunkering because of

The speed and chill.

One could’ve been walking

With a sidelong glance

At the many troubling shapes

The bare trees made—

Like those about to shriek,

But finding themselves unable

To utter a word now.

One could’ve been in

One of these dying mill towns

Inside a small dim grocery

When the news broke.

One would’ve drawn near the radio

With the one many months pregnant

Who serves there at that hour.

Was there a smell of

Spilled blood in the air,

Or was it that other,

Much finer scent—of fear,

The fear of approaching death

One met on the empty street?

Monsters on movie posters, too,

Prominently displayed.

Then, six factory girls,

Arm in arm, laughing

As if they’ve been drinking.

At the very least, one

Could’ve been one of them:

The one with a mouth

Painted bright red,

Who feels out of sorts,

For no reason, very pale,

And so, excusing herself,

Vanishes where it says:

Rooms for Rent,

And immediately goes to bed,

Fully dressed, only

To lie with eyes open,

Trembling, despite the covers.

It’s just a bad chill,

She keeps telling herself

Not having seen the papers

Which the landlord has the dog

Bring from the front porch.

The old man never learned

To read well, and so

Reads on in that half-whisper,

And in that half-light

Verging on the dark,

About that day’s tragedies

Which supposedly are not

Tragedies in the absence of

Figures endowed with

Classic nobility of soul.

against whatever it is that’s encroaching

Best of all is to be idle,

And especially on a Thursday,

And to sip wine while studying the light:

The way it ages, yellows, turns ashen

And then hesitates forever

On the threshold of the night

That could be bringing the first frost.

It’s good to have a woman around just then,

And two is even better.

Let them whisper to each other

And eye you with a smirk.

Let them roll up their sleeves and unbutton their shirts a bit

As this fine old twilight deserves,

And the small schoolboy

Who has come home to a room almost dark

And now watches wide-eyed

The grown-ups raise their glasses to him,

The giddy-headed, red-haired woman

With eyes tightly shut,

As if she were about to cry or sing.

Compilation copyright © 2007 by Charles Simic

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents


From Unending Blues, 1986

Toward Nightfall   3

Against Whatever It Is That’s Encroaching   6

From The Book of Gods and Devils, 1990

St. Thomas Aquinas   9

Factory   11

Shelley   12

The Devils   15

The White Room   17

The Big War   19

Paradise   20

In the Library   21

From Hotel Insomnia, 1992

The Prodigal   25

Hotel Insomnia   26

The Tiger   27

A Book Full of Pictures   29

Evening Walk   30

Romantic Sonnet   31

The Old World   32

Country Fair   33

From A Wedding in Hell, 1994

Paradise Motel   37

The Clocks of the Dead   38

Leaves   39

Transport   40

Crazy About Her Shrimp   41

Reading History   42

Empires   44

Mystics   45

Via del Tritone   46

The Secret   47

From Walking the Black Cat, 1996

Mirrors at 4 a.m.   51

Cameo Appearance   52

What the Gypsies Told My Grandmother While She Was Still a Young Girl   53

Little Unwritten Book   54

Slaughterhouse Flies   55

An Address with Exclamation Points   56

Entertaining the Canary   57

Ghosts   58

At the Cookout   60

Club Midnight   62

Pastoral Harpsichord   63

Have You Met Miss Jones?   64

From Jackstraws, 1999

The Soul Has Many Brides   69

Mummy’s Curse   70

The Common Insects of North America   71

The Toy   72

From Night Picnic, 2001

Unmade Beds   79

The One to Worry About   80

Sunday Papers   81

The Altar   82

My Father Attributed Immortality to Waiters   83

The Lives of the Alchemists   84

From The Voice at 3:00 a.m., 2003

Grayheaded Schoolchildren   87

Serving Time   88

Late September   89

From My Noiseless Entourage, 2005

Self-Portrait in Bed   93

To Dreams   94

My Noiseless Entourage   95

Description of a Lost Thing   96

My Turn to Confess   97

In the Planetarium   98

Pigeons at Dawn   99

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