Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hello, Captain Obvious

I stumbled upon a copy of Charles Simic's That Little Something in the bargain bin for a dollar at Borders today. The majority of the time I was reading the book the phrase, "Hello, Captain Obvious" kept popping into my head. I haven't read a lot of Simic, but I do remember some poems of his I've read in the past that I liked. So I think it is safe to say that this is not his best work. Or I am hoping so, anyway. One thing Simic does well is his economic use of words. I appreciate the straightforward language of his work and the resulting rhythm of those lines. He writes "tiny" poems -- in scale, anyway (not Kay Ryan tiny, mind you, but none of the poems in That Little Something are over a page). He also focuses on tiny things: small moments and details that are intended to carry the weight of some larger truth. The problem is that few of the small moments and details he so relies on are particularly fresh or vivid. Oftentimes a detail inserted in the last line of the poem is in charge of heavy lifting that it isn't nearly strong enough to do. A dog's grave, a clenched fist, a black cat, a leafless tree. Perhaps if the poem leading up to those lines had established some import the "crashing wave" at the end would sing in some way that such an image has never sung before instead of teetering on the brink of cliché. Alas.

The book does, however, feature a monkey. In the poem "The Elevator is Out of Order" Simic writes of "A monkey dressed in baby clothes, / Who belonged to an opera singer."

So if anything Charles Simic has given me more direct evidence that monkeys and poetry are never far removed from one another.

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