In his autobiographical essay “In the Beginning . . . ,” Charles Simic describes one of the first great influences on him, the family radio:The nights of my childhood were spent in the company of that radio. . . . Once I heard beeps in Morse code. Spies, I thought. Often I’d catch a distant station so faint I’d have to turn the sound all the way up and press my ear against the rough burlap that covered the speaker. Somewhere dance music was playing or the language was so attractive I’d listen to it for a long time, as if on the verge of understanding.
This solitary attentiveness, this fascination with the barely intelligible, with speech so far away that it seems transmitted from silence, has characterized Simic’s poetry from the beginning. In attentive silence, he says, he can come closer to “the way things are.”
Simic’s poetic sensibility combines a Surrealistic fascination with recurring archetypes and an Imagist concern for precise observation of things. His first influences were poets with a gift for the primitive and a knack for using language to evoke origins: Vachel Lindsay, Hart Crane, Carl Sandburg, Theodore Roethke (in particular his poem “The Lost Son”), and the Yugoslav Vasko Popa (whose work Simic has translated). He has also been influenced by the blues, with its verbal inventiveness, eroticism, and tragic sense of life.
“Butcher Shop” (from Dismantling the Silence), like many of...
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