Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Readers who have followed Charles Simic’s poetry since his first small press collection four decades ago (What the Grass Says: Kayak, 1967) or his initial publication from a larger press (Dismantling the Silence: Brazillier, 1971) have never really been surprised by the direction his poetry has taken. Likewise, one would immediately recognize the work in his latest book, My Noiseless Entourage, as identifiably Simic’s. With the possible exception of his endeavors in prose poetry, Simic’s distinctive distanced voice rendered in brief and crisply lined poems presenting odd or surrealistic perspectives with an ironic edge to them are easily known by sight.

Nevertheless, despite encountering an expected approach again in his new poems, readers are rarely disappointed due to any onset of predictability or boredom. In fact, sometimes it seems Simic’s return to his familiar formal mannerism or distinguishable subject matter adequately masks the atypical results one finds by the end of each poem. Consequently, while his style might lull us or, like a magician’s diversionary tactic, distract us for a moment while the language’s sleight-of-hand shift in focus occurs, by the close of the poem we discover another unforeseen, though often ambiguous, disclosure that could disturb or unsettle us.

Occasionally, the speakers’ plain diction and apparently flat declarative sentences in Simic’s poems open him to legitimate criticism, as in the opening poem, “Description of a Lost Thing”: “Horror movies, / All-night cafeterias, / Dark barrooms / And poolhalls, / On rain-slicked streets.” However, at times these scenes and their speakers remind me of the ordinary events or everyday unsuspecting individuals inexplicably caught up in extraordinary scenarios and dramatic activities in an Alfred Hitchcock film. In “Pigeons at Dawn,” the book’s final piece, Simic describes such a scene: “Under the vast, early-dawn sky / The city lay silent before us. / Everything on hold: / Rooftops and water towers, / Clouds and wisps of white smoke.” As with Hitchcock’s innocent characters that find themselves in the middle of unusual circumstances, the speakers in Simic’s poems almost appear unaware of the startling consequences of their actions or the substantial significance of their words.

During the book’s title poem, the persona reports: “It was disconcerting, downright frightening / To be reminded of one’s solitude.” No other poet portrays anxiety so gracefully. In “To Dreams,” Simic’s speaker moves through a series of uneasy scenes: “On the hush-hush sharing my bed / With phantoms, visiting the kitchen // After midnight to check the faucet. / I’m late for school, and when I get there / No one seems to recognize me.” Phantoms, ghosts, the dead, and the absent haunt the pages in this book, perhaps as a “noiseless entourage,” while Simic continues to contemplate mortality and the existence or absence of God.

Within “My Noiseless Entourage” Simic makes a comparison to “reading about stars” in “a children’s book”: “How they can afford to spend centuries / Traveling our way on a glint of light.” The poet controls the language of his speakers so much that at first the words often camouflage deeper meanings and, like the far stars, delay enlightenment until after careful consideration of choices between alternative readings. In “Shading Exercise” the speaker concludes: “The sun doesn’t care for ambiguities, / But I do. I open my door and let them in.”

In an essay (“Negative Capability and Its Children”) Simic had written nearly three decades ago, he discussed “the principle of uncertainty,” determining that the best poetry is that which presents “a new and unofficial view of our human condition,” as well as “its contradictions.” Simic suggested the task of the poet was to offer readers ways “to think without recourse to abstractions . . . to sensitize thought and involve it with the ambiguity of existence.” In the best pieces from this collection, Simic still delivers just such poetry, extended metaphors and short narrative allegories especially relating to his aging characters, facing death or contemplating the possibility of God.

Poem after poem, Simic’s personae are surrounded by evidence of death or abandonment. In “Used Clothing Store” one comes upon the “large stock of past lives / To rummage through” until “you turn to flee, / Dead men’s hats are rolling / On the floor, hurrying / To escort you out the door.” “The Centuries” opens with a pair of ominous lines: “Many a poor wretch left no trace / Of ever having lived here.” However, even when a trace of one’s life remains, it also serves to remind us of an absence, a life lost: “A dead man writes of his happy childhood on a farm. / Of riding in a balloon over Lake Erie” (“Used Book Store”). In “Graveyard on a Hill” Simic accepts an image that diverts attention and allows temporary avoidance of considering the dead: “I’ll take the January wind, so mean / It permits no other thought / Than the one that acknowledges its presence / Among these weedy tombstones.”

Simic’s wit shows as he begins a motif in “Ask Your Astrologer”: “My stars have been guilty of benign neglect.” He then presents an address: “To our Lord who has withdrawn / Into a corner with his wounds / I say, that world out there / Is a riddle even you can’t solve.” With the opening line of “To Fate” he reveals: “You were always more real to me than God.” By the final section of the four in My Noiseless Entourage, Simic narrows his focus more closely on the existence or, more precisely, the absence of God (“The Absentee Landlord”). Through metaphor Simic further proposes a God either unresponsive to humans (“He Heard with His Dead Ear”) or now unavailable, like “Our Old Neighbor”: “Who hasn’t been seen in his yard / Or sitting on his front porch / For what seems like forever. / Whose house stays dark at night, / The garage closed, the great / Hearse of a car parked in the back.”

Although one’s instinct sometimes leads to a regret at re-occurrence of the cool or reserved tone in a number of these poems or an apparent lack of range in these works, and some readers may desire greater emotional attachment in Simic’s poetry, while others might seek more substantive exploration of the larger complex subjects this poet only hints at addressing in his brief pieces, these valid concerns also may serve merely as reminders of what defines his style of writing or what borders he is willing to observe. In addition, a few poems in the collection, “Minds Roaming” or “One Chair” among them, seem much too slight to carry any sufficient weight, as though Simic were experimenting in further minimalism and testing the boundaries, sometimes unsuccessfully, of his succinct poetry.

Still, as Charles Simic has demonstrated since his first collection forty years ago, and as he indicated in his early essay, even within these admittedly evident limitations, the poet intends to prove he can offer a new “view of our human condition” and “a principle of uncertainty.” He hopes to show he may be able to relay aspects of ambitious and abstract concepts—including thoughts on mortality and the existence of God—through common, even humorous, settings that have been heightened by application of playful imagination or through engagement in ironic wordplay with an intelligent and witty use of language. Finally, as with the speaker in “Shading Exercise” that Simic mimics in his poetry—and unlike the sun shining brightly on the exterior world, not caring for ambiguities—this poet prefers the darker interior, would rather open his door to the ambiguities and the uncertainties, inviting all of us to enter as well.

Simic, Charles. My Noiseless Entourage. Harcourt, 2005.

No comments: