Book Review: Scribbled In The Dark: Poems

Scribbled In The Dark:  Poems, by Charles Simic

Again, as someone who is very familiar with the writing of noted contemporary poets [1], I found much in this book to enjoy.  To be sure, the poems in this book have been previously compiled in other publications, mostly magazines of some kind, and the author is gracious enough to thank them for the freedom to reprint them here.  In at least one case–the haunting titular poem–the poem has been reprinted in other books by the author, a fairly common practice, even for an author as prolific in his writing as this one.  Even so, these poems generally share the feeling of being nocturnes, poems about the night or written in the night or generally being dark and melancholy writings, and as someone who has certainly contributed to that genre myself in my own writings there is clearly much I can appreciate here as a fellow poet of the night.  Whether or not you can appreciate this collection of poetry as well depends in large part on how you feel with the author dwelling on themes of night and darkness.  The less you appreciate such material, the less you will enjoy the author’s seeming fixation on it.

The poems in this short collection of less than 100 pages are divided into four sections, and it should be readily understood that these are pretty dark poems, although most of them are very short.  The collection begins with the narrator of the poem in fear of the eraser, and continues with reflections on the tensions between the better and worse angels of the author’s nature, musings on loneliness and isolation, the feeling of being surrounded by strangers and abandoned by God and Jesus, approaching death, or dealing with persistent boredom.  It is hard to find any poems here that are jubilant or even happy, as has been the case with some of the author’s previous work.  Instead, these are poems that are gloomy to the max, and where night is not in mind winter is with its themes of death and decay and barrenness.  The titular poem gives some idea of what is going on with the author’s mindset, and it is not a happy place:

A shout in the street.
Someone locking horns with his demon.
Then, calm returning.
The wind tousling the leaves.
The birds in their nests
Pleased to be rocked back to sleep.
Night turning cool.
Streams of blood in the gutter
Waiting for sunrise.

What is the author getting at here?  Despite the general gloomy and melancholy tone of the poetry, it is clear that the author is engaged in a deep struggle.  He recognizes his own demons and his (sometimes unsuccessful) struggle against them.  This is certainly something that many people can identify with, and the author’s persistence in that struggle despite his lack of confidence of being one of the blessed is itself a noble and worthwhile one.  Moreover, the author himself not only draws the empathy of the reader, who is likely also to be some sort of struggling and tormented soul–one could scarcely imagine any other type of person being drawn to this sort of work–but also shows empathy to the reader, as in his call to fellow insomniacs to leave aside their gloomy night thinking for at least a time and get some sleep.  Ultimately, it is the author’s flinty courage and deep sense of empathy that allows his work to have a positive impression despite being filled with so many unhappy poems about darkness and solitude and death and isolation.  After all, even the most isolated and gloomy and tormented soul is still a child of the heavenly Father created in His image, and every scribble in the dark an attempt to leave a record behind of a life worth remembering.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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