chickens and angels


To open one of Charles Simic’s collections of poetry — this is, incredibly, his 19th — is to enter with renewed delight an instantly familiar neighborhood. Delight may not be the first word you’d associate with his shabby rooming houses, seedy movie theaters, empty restaurants on lonely side streets, dusty stores about to go out of business, bare trees. But if the scenery comes out of Edward Hopper, complete with the aura of loneliness and of ordinary things made strange by odd slants of light, the people who live there are nothing like Hopper’s doughy American depressives. They’re characters from Eastern European folk tales or Kafka, boiling with energy, nicely poised between the comic and the sinister and prone to metamorphosis: an opera singer keeps “a monkey dressed in baby clothes,” a woman “turned into a black cat / and I ran after you on all fours.” Even Grandmother — and Simic’s poems are full of grandmothers — “knitted / With a ball of black yarn.” The fun — and Simic’s poetry is nothing if not amusing — comes from the way he puts together the whimsical, the earthy, the banal and the transcendent. There are a lot of chickens in his poems and a lot of angels, too.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.