June 2005

Raymond L Bianchi

poetry

My Noiseless Entourage by Charles Simic

Charles Simic is an influential mainstream poet who dwells on the margin between "experimental" and "mainstream" in pomo poetic parlance. Simic’s voice is listened to and his influence, while not overwhelming, is important in the ways of American poetics and poetry.

Much of Simic’s work sits in the space between irony, surrealism and the mainstream; My Noiseless Entourage is something different -- more personal and less ironic.

Many postmodern poets have dispensed with lines and stanzas or use them in a way that is open to radical interpretations and in ways that challenge the reader to think differently about poetry; Simic’s new book brings us back to traditional lines and stanzas, away from the contemporary penchant for prose poetry and line break games that fill many journals today. There are prose poems in this work but it is the traditional stanzaed work that gives this volume its form.

Much of the poetry in this book is clever but not profound, like in "My Turn to Confess."

I didn’t say anything then,
But that night I lay slumped on the floor
chewing on a pencil
sighing from time to time
‘Growling, too, at something out there
I could not bring myself to name

After finishing this poem I wondered if Joaquin Phoenix was nearby and that we are watching the movie The Village. The reality is that there are many poetic gems and delicious lines in this work but on the whole the project is too precious and too cute not to seem affected. I kept waiting for Simic to take the gloves off and punch me in the nose. Instead I kept getting small flacid slaps.

Another poem that caused me to pause was "The Tragic Sense of Life." It addresses Postmodern Societal Decay, a set of issues that most poets today refuse to address: politics, violence and justice. Some lines that are hauntingly effective. “The lake is still in morning light,” “the statue of the Virgin blesses the day her son is inside afraid to light a candle saying Forgive one another, clothe the naked”.

Now this is a poem that challenges the society in which we live, and it is cleverly done using the language of the dominant political culture. This is a poem worth reading and reflecting on fully.

The problem with My Noiseless Entourage is, frankly, the noise. There are too many poems that are hard to care about and these engulf the fine poems in banality. It is worth it, however, to wade through the book to get to these poems. A good example of this is the poem "The Centuries." What a gallant title. However, I could not get a fix on how much of this poem is made up of self-absorbed reflections and how much is poetry for poetry’s sake? “it is standing-through the rose garden / and the birch trees are long gone”. Read this poem and tell me where the centuries are located. I could not find them.

Charles Simic has been an important poet during his time over the past twenty or so years. His work has garnered prizes and he is a mainstay with Jorie Graham, John Ashbery and many other poetic stars. Simic has won the Pulitzer, hence he has an instant audience. But would this uneven book have been published if his name was Charles Smith?

My Noiseless Entourage by Charles Simic
Harcourt
ISBN: 0151012148
80 Pages