I survived Texas and Mardi Gras!I would love to tell you all about it, but I’ve heard the internet is pretty widespread, and honestly I think maybe it’s best if what happened in New Orleans (and Alabama and Austin) stays there.
Partly because on the long, long scarily rural road back to Atlanta we read some poems from Charles Simic’s latest offering, Master of Disguises. I like being read to. And I like Charles Simic, muchly. Still, after listening to a few particularly wrenching poems I started to wonder, what happened to Simic’s playfulness?
You know, the sensual poems, the slightly sinister whimsy that re-imagined the small details of the quotidian that shoehorn the surreal into greyer weekdays.This is the Simic I first learned to love in anthologies of American poetry, as with the much anthologised poem ‘My Shoes’ that elevates what in my mind are a pair of old sneakers to spiritual relics. This isn’t to say that Simic isn’t dark– he really is, and deeply sinister. But previously this tone (see My Shoes, again) has seemed more an act of observation, of going into the details to find the off-kilter pitch of our everyday lives, the oddness of routine living.
The random smattering of poems I listened from Master of Disguises, however, were permeated with a deep and sincere sadness. Rather than intense and wickedly felt observations, these were quieter and more wearily sad poems. For example:
Crumpled under a doomsday sign,
You roamed the streets
Convinced the day will come
You’ll be meeting the Lord,
His face coming briefly into view
As the crowd pushes
Toward the subway entrance.
Come night, you vanished
With your tattered raincoat,
Your gray beard and flowing hair,
And your homemade sign
Warning of God’s displeasure.
One time, with nothing better to do,
I followed your usual route,
Peeking into doorways and alleyways
Favored by the destitute,
Wondering if you had a friend,
Or were alone in the world?
So on my return, with these poems at the back of my mind, I came across this wee article Simic penned for the New York Review of Books Blog, ‘The New American Pessimism’. Simic discusses what he sees “an atmosphere of growing anxiety and hysteria” and concludes that:
The reason pessimists are multiplying is that we dishonor the intellect and the knowledge of history in this country by refusing to admit that corruption is the source of our ills. It takes no great mental effort to realize that there’s no effective political forces either in Washington or locally that are able to do anything serious to correct our self-delusions about being the world’s policeman, because any sensible solution would seriously cut into profits of this or that interest group.
It seems that this pessimism is the bedrock for his recent poems, and maybe this concern with the political and national attitudes is a result of his appointment as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 2007. Perhaps I am overstating this turn to pessimism, or perhaps his latest book really is a kind of nostalgia as he speaks of in the article that reflects back to his harsh childhood. Whatever it is, I’m grateful for the wonderful poems, but hope Simic remembers some of his earlier enchantments once in a while.