Book Review: Hotel Insomnia: Poems

Hotel Insomnia:  Poems, by Charles Simic

Having read about half a dozen or so of the author’s books before getting to this one, it was little surprise that this book would deal so heavily in one of the topics that is characteristic of his literature and mine [1], namely, insomnia and what keeps one from sleeping well.  One hesitates to speculate exactly on what is keeping the author from sleeping well here or in many of his other volumes of similarly dark and melancholy poetry, but it is no surprise given the material of this poem that the author appears to have an overactive imagination.  If one looks at the material of this poem and thinks of the sort of mind that is required to create that sort of material, it follows that such a mind is not particularly conducive to sleep.  Whether or not that is the kindest way to interpret such issues or not is somewhat irrelevant when one considers the fact that the lack or disturbance of sleep is so large a matter in the author’s work that one has to figure that it influences his work in a major way.  This is not to say that it is a bad thing, because if one does not sleep, at least one can write, but it is certainly distinctive of the author’s work.

Like the author’s work in general, this book is less than 100 pages and is divided into three parts.  Some of the poems I was familiar with from one of the best-of compilations of his writings when he was named as poet laureate of the United States, but his poems in general struck me as pretty solid and easy to appreciate, as they generally do.  Of course, the author struggles with dreams, with memory, with the visions of dark city streets and dark doings, of the infinite and its implications.  One is tempted to say in reading this or any other of the author’s work that a great deal of the author’s struggle with sleep and his evident spiritual warfare is an inability to trust God.  How much that springs from the author’s childhood in WWII Yugoslavia is hard to say, but that probably plays at least some role in the author’s intense and continuing suffering on the spiritual and mental and emotional levels of existence.  Indeed, in one of the poems of this collection the author reflects on himself and his family being among the casualties of war printed in advance, which suggests that for him World War II was not the glorious experience it is to many Americans.

Even so, for the most part this book is a collection of poems that follows the author’s usual preoccupations even as it provides insight into the author and his imagination.  Even the title of this work suggests that he is aware that his own struggle for peace and quiet and gentle sleep is not his alone, but rather that he is the inhabitant of one room of a larger hotel of people who sleep poorly, for some of the reasons included in this work and likely a good deal more.  Part of the popularity of the author’s work, at least as far as the unpopular genre of contemporary poetry goes, is likely due to the fact that the author deals with subjects of general relevance.  The struggle with the infinite, the curse of nightmares and intrusive traumatic memories and the experience of horror that one cannot unsee are all matters of general interest to people, especially the sort of sensitive people who are drawn naturally to poetry, both to read it and write it.  At this stage of his poetry career, Simic seems aware that he is writing not only for himself but also for and to a larger audience who shares his concerns and does not mind a deep examination into it through beautiful if gloomy poetry.

[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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