Harcourt, 192 pp., $25
The widely published American poet, Charles Simic, has often said that he is Emily Dickenson's lost lover. This most recent collection of poems, The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected New and Late Poems, is further evidence that the claim is more than a morbid jest.
Simic, first published in 1967, is the author of more than 60 books of prose and poetry. He received the Pulitzer Prize for The World Doesn't End (1990); Walking the Black Cat (1996) was a finalist for the National Book Award. A MacArthur "genius grant" recipient, Simic has, in addition to his own work, published numerous translations of Eastern-European and Baltic poetry.
Born in Belgrade in 1938, the emigre Simic writes in English and his poetry has an American feel to it. His language is colloquial (if sometimes brushed by the literary) and his line breaks have a muscular, industrial decisiveness that speaks of an American ethos. But it is a dark America, filled with both the gothic lyric and the grotesque. Above all, this is poetry of the American orphan who remains estranged, adrift in rooming houses; who is still a Catholic, but reads books on the Illuminati in used bookstores; who struggles under the spell of the silence cast over a small town in America, by World War II.
Simic is often called a surrealist, but his work is far closer to Imagist poetry in its attention to the apparent. And while his work shows the effects of the modernist pressures which produced an Ashbury, in Simic's poetry, language is still a means for probing and revealing the difficulty and raptures of being together; of saying anything that is shared. Hence, although poetry is a strange kind of art--thin, almost without weight; full of lies--one has the sense that some specifically cared for, still tangible world has passed before Simic's eyes.
That said, this latest collection does not represent a new turn for Simic. The main body of poems are drawn from previously published man