Book Review: Sixty Poems

Sixty Poems, by Charles Simic

This book is a way better book than its title would suggest, and way more coherent as well.  As far as reasons for the existence of this best-of collection [1], this book has a worthwhile one, in that it is a collection of poems that was made out of several of the author’s other books of poetry after he was chosen as the poet laureate of the United States.  This is not a bad reason to make a book.  In fact, it is a good reason to make a compilation of poetry, because poetry in general seems to be seldom read and any time one has a reason to market poetry and encourage those who are readers of poetry to read yet another book on poetry, that is a good reason to make a book.  As a contemporary poet myself, albeit nowhere near as famous as the author, I can totally understand the appeal of having any reason that would allow for one to come out with a book that would have at least some chance of being read by a wider public.  This book does not need to justify its existence to me, at least.

The titular sixty poems of this particular compilation are chosen from nearly two decades worth of the author’s writings.  The first two poems are taken from 1986’s Unending Blues, the next few poems are taken from 1990’s The Book Of Gods And Devils, the next few poems after that from 1992’s Hotel Insomnia, and the next few after that from 1994’s A Wedding And Hell (review forthcoming).  A sizable collection follows from 1996’s Walking The Black Cat, after which there comes four poems from 1999’s Jackstraws, six poems from 2001’s Night Picnic, three poems from 2003’s The Voice At 3:00AM, and the last seven poems from 2005’s My Noiseless Entourage.  Despite the long gap between the beginning and end of this collection, though, the poems are a cohesive lot, dealing with conversations, fairly melancholy and gloomy reflections about death and divine judgment, as well as reading.  It must be admitted that there are some really good poems here too.  My favorite is perhaps the darkly humorous (and somewhat lecherous) “Have You Met Miss Jones,” but there are many standouts here depending on whether you like reading about insects or leaves or simply being an insomniac.  As is often the case with Simic’s writings, there are a lot of ways to enjoy this poem, but most of them are at best darkly humorous.

Like many poets, Simic has a lane that he feels most comfortable in.  By the time he had written these poems, he was already between fifty and seventy years old, and he knew his lane and was comfortable exploring it.  That does not mean that these poems are necessarily timeless–they certainly have a certain contemporary decadence about them that would be ill-suited to earlier ages where poetry was better respected and written with a higher moral tone.  Simic writes throughout the entire collection as if he is haunted by the reality of time and death and divine judgment but also somewhat enraptured by sensual pleasures, and that is not a particularly uncommon place to be.  Perhaps one of the reasons why Simic was chosen to be poet laureate, aside from the fact that he is an excellent poet, is the fact that he writes about things that are very easily to relate to by those people who read and enjoy poems.  Sensuality and melancholy are very easy approaches to writing to sell in this and probably most ages, and they give this collection a strong coherence.

[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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