Friday, August 31, 2007

My life, my portion of eternity

The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems
Charles Simic

After hearing Charles Simic named as Poet Laureate, I just had knew I needed to get my hands on his poetry. The small taste I had earlier gleaned did not whet my appetite. I searched online: I hemmed, I hawed, I debated which volume to purchase.

At long last, I settled upon The Voice at 3:00 A.M., a collection of late and new poems ranging from 1986 to the present day. As usual, I sat down to read this collection with my usual stack of post-its, a must whenever reading a book of poetry so that I may flag every poem I like. I am pleased to report that I nearly used them all when reading this collection of Simic’s work. While not every poem resounded with me, I can honestly say his work quite often took my breath away.

For my part, I like poems that appear simple (and are easy to read) yet yield multiple interpretations after some reflection. Most of Simic’s poems meet my criteria, and there are only a few poems that were so long I lost interest in them. Most were about a page in length, and nearly all made me stop and think. Choosing a favorite poem from this collection is damn near impossible, although I seem to have enjoyed the earlier poems in this collection better than the ones from the present.

I could speak more about this volume, but I think I had best allow his poetry to speak for him.

Consider the shortest poem in the collection, entitled “Evening Chess” (1992):


The Black Queen raised high
In my father’s angry hand.

That's it! I just think it's brilliant, and I can't put my finger on why. This next one, from the present day, astounded me with its simple beauty, and I enjoy it more and more with every read:


So damn familiar,
Most of the time,
I don’t even know you are here.
My life,
My portion of eternity,

A little shiver,
As if the chill of the grave
Is already
Catching up with me—
No matter.

Descartes smelled
Witches burning
While he sat thinking
Of a truth so obvious
We keep failing to see it.

I never knew it either
Till today.
When I heard a bird shriek:
The cat is coming,
And I felt myself tremble.

I love that, "my life, my portion of eternity." I'm a little confuzzled as to Decartes' truth, though; is it no more than "I think, therefore I am"? Is that the truth we keep failing to see, that we are? I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

In a nutshell: A necessity for poetry lovers, Simic’s work will not disappoint.

Bibliolatry Scale: 5 out of 6 stars

1 comment: said...

oooh. fantastic. I think I might have to stalk him. can you imagine sitting in a coffee shop and reading this over his shoulder as he writes? would you think him smart and savvy, a literary genius? or an odd man who plays with words?