Tuesday, February 6, 2018

To Live in a World like Simic's

I've recently become obsessed with Charles Simic, poet, essayist, metaphysician, philosopher,  famous for his odd humor and surprising image filled poetry. Just the titles of the books I own:
"The Metaphysician in the Dark," "The Monster Loves His Labyrinth" "The Voice at 3:00 A.M." "Classic Ballroom Dances" "My Noiseless Entourage" even the less creative titles simply fill me with joy, "Sixty Poems"and "The Life of Images."

He makes the case for depth of metaphor and image as the reason poems stay with us. In one essay "Verbal Image" reprinted in The Metaphysician in the Dark," he states "the Alchemy of turning what is visible to us into what is visible to others is what all the arts are about." Easier said than done, but using this thought as the basis for doing my paintings and writing my small poems helps me with any anxieties over the process.

Here is just one poem I wrote after reading his poems. Nowhere near his brilliance, but it was a fun exercise in imagery.

The Reorder

A stomp against the sky
muddy boot layered in earth
pitted gravel raining down.
Another day to scrape off
the dismal, bend over
to unlace the tie, polish it
all up — toe, heel, pain,
look out, trace the fingers
of the cottonwoods rising up
against all odds.

And he is always writing poems about his odd dreams.  I've been reading another great book by Edmund De Waal (world renown potter of mostly porcelain) titled "The White Road" dealing with his obsession with porcelain. His other wonderful book is " Hare with Amber Eye" translated into more than ten languages.  He is also an inspiration.  So my next poem combining both influences.

No Color

White on white
circle of snow in motion
dark bird    dark branch   wind feathers
and up the hill and down the field
shimmers of porcelain spinning
a potter’s wheel of purpose
flattened and driven and smoothed  
sculpting the valley of old cotton.
And now in the postured dream
a found photo   
black pot   white table   bent spoon
and in the looking
summarily free from history’s jumble
a woman in the corner against
a shadowed white wall  
her lit up smile  
against gray lips against dark skin
creased in song,
distance leaning into the cool light.

Now for one of Simic's poems. It is one of my favorites:


You must come to them sideways
In rooms webbed in shadow,
Sneak a view of their emptiness
Without them catching
A glimpse of you in return.

The secret is,
Even the empty bed is a burden to them,
A pretense.
They are more themselves keeping
The company of time and eternity.

Which begging your pardon,
Cast no image
As they admire themselves in the mirror,
Pulling a hanky out
To wipe your brow surreptitiously.

1 comment:

  1. To add to your wonderful selection of poems from this singular contemporary writer, here is one of my favorites.

    “Graveyard on a Hill” [New Yorker (Sept 1, 2003), 42]

    Let those who so desire continue to dream
    Of heavenly mansions
    With their vast chambers and balconies
    Awash in the light of a golden afternoon.

    I‘ll take this January wind, so mean
    it permits no other thought
    Than the one that acknowledges its presence
    Among these weedy tombstones
    And these trees out of a vampire flick
    Bending to the breaking point

    And then straightening up – intact,
    With the wind busy elsewhere,
    Nudging dead leaves to take a few quick hops
    Right up to the branch they fell from.

    The opening stanza of this poem can be joined to two from William Stafford's "Allegiances" and they begin to form a chorus of voices about attaching ourselves to the Earth ("we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love/
    where we are, sturdy for common things") and the commonplace, understood as anything but the banal ("we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love/where we are, sturdy for common things") .

    Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
    strange mountains and creatures have always lurked-
    elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders:-we
    encounter them in dread and wonder,

    But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold,
    found some limit beyond the waterfall,
    a season changes, and we come back, changed
    but safe, quiet, grateful.

    Thank you, Mary, for calling to our attention these poems by Charles Simic. They too are occasions for dwelling at 4:00 A.M. in an empty room, in which a mirror hangs - and coming back changed, "but safe, quiet, grateful."