I had a friend who worked closely with Charles Simic, who waxed ineffable when trying to explain Charles Simic.
Part of me responded with: why? and started making a list of complaints: the primary one being what I have described in the past as a sense of oversimplified hyper-masculinity in some of his work, which I find annoying at times.
It was clear to me, though, that the flip side of simplicity (clean, spare lines, strong images, deep and unmistakable metaphor) is a real strength of Simic’s, and that also, he is clearly an excellent teacher, which Kate echoes above – one who cares enough about the work of his students to push them constantly deeper and simpler in their language, closer to the bone.
Reading the quote about urban landscapes vs. nature and that faux mysticism (which I also object to, often, even loving nature poems and having an entirely mysterious and awe filled relationship with nature myself, because the metaphors of these kinds of poems are often lazy), I flashed on a few vaguely remembered lines of Simic’s, and went and found them:
Fear passes from man to man
As one leaf passes its shudder
All at once the whole tree is trembling.
And there is no sign of the wind.
(“Fear,” from Dismantling the Silence)
What I came to, re-considering these lines, the passage from the interview Dave excerpted, and the discussion here – Rachel’s point in particular – is that as all poets do, Simic is writing in and from a natural world, with a sense of longing, outrage, rebellion, hunger, and close observance.
I think any review, interview, momentary discussion of a poet’s work (even their assessment of their own work) is going to encapsulate only one moment’s understanding of the work, one particular point about the work, and can then be used, without context or in a particular context, to make a point –
Simic has specificity of language, though not by taxonomic tag. If someone pronounced that naming genus or subgenera is never appropriate in a poem, I suspect Simic would not sign on to the idea.
I do sense a disconnect between Simic’s ethos and mine, in the language itself – about nature, about urban landscapes, about what gets romanticized and how – but am never (okay, rarely) comfortable with global statements about what a poet does, believes, or can do, because in my experience, the moment someone says that, the poet will just go and do the opposite.
Maybe poets are just contrary.
Anyway, a few thoughts, and food for much more here.
Wonderful post and discussion – thanks, all.