Charles Simic

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What formal and structural choices make Charles Simic's "A Reunion with Boredom" a poetic essay?

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The choice to turn inward and ruminate about feelings and the past makes this essay poetic, as do the literary devices Simac uses. Poetry relies heavily on imagery—describing with the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell—and by using similes and metaphors in which comparisons make ideas spring to life. Poets also often use hyperbole (exaggeration) and allusion as well as repetition and alliteration. All of these literary elements appear in Simac's essay.

For example, Simac brings us into the scenes of his time in the tenements with the rich series of sound images below that describe the noise of his living situation:

At almost any hour of the day, one could hear several radios tuned to different stations at the same time, husbands and wives arguing, mothers shouting at their children, babies crying, drunks cursing on the stairs and tenants gabbing and laughing on the front stoops.

The following quote evokes the scene in a rural home with a simile at the end comparing the soft lighting to a seance (similes usually use the words "like" or "as" but "resemble" functions in their place):

We use oil lamps and most often candles, so our evenings around the dining room table resemble séances.

Simac also uses hyperbole to describe life before the constant distraction of television, cell phones, and the internet. He says that people used to live in "monastic solitude." He states, facetiously and with exaggeration, that:

Thousands died of ennui [boredom] in such homes.

Simac also uses repetition, a poetic device that stresses a certain word—in this case "stared/staring"—and he also uses alliteration with the proximity of "windows" and "walls:"

Old people stared out of windows at all hours, when they were not staring at the walls.

Finally, Simac employs allusion: for example in his references to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet.

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Although poetic devices can and do happen naturally in prose writing, so that the reader and often even the author are unaware of them, Charles Simic uses poetry methods very intentionally in his essay "A Reunion with Boredom." Since he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, this is not surprising and is definitely well-written.

Simic’s favorite poetic devices in this piece fall under the umbrella of figurative language. After the analogy that evenings during Hurricane Irene "resemble séances," he gives the simile that they sit around the table, "heads bowed as if trying to summon spirits." Plenty of other similes are laid out: "ideas running like fever through their brains," "Drowning in it, I came face to face with myself as if in a mirror," and the neighbor lady "fed me like a prince." Simic also uses frequent metaphors, explaining that, during the storm, "I became a spectator of my own existence," and "had a kind of high school reunion with boredom." In an extended metaphor, our prose-poet describes the storm victims as

only puppets jerked this way and that... strings loosened for the time being, there was nothing for us to do but slump idly in some chair with our heads dandling and our smiles fixed crooked.

His use of such figurative language brings his ideas to life for readers.

Simic applies more mechanical poetic devices to this essay as well, such as the epithetic description of his technology-free childhood of "monastic solitude." Quick parallelism can be seen in the sentence describing his childhood existence as "either too real or totally unreal." In another line, he creates euphony with the use of first alliteration, then assonance:

several ethnic cuisines came to compete for one’s nose [also personification] with their tantalizing smells, making it impossible even with all the typical disappointments of youth.

Another euphonic line applies onomatopoeia, rhythm, and internal rhyme:

One day I recall being absolutely sure that time had stopped, despite the loud ticking of the clock in my room. Everything stood still.

Hear how the first line flows smoothly up and down, then the second line requires a stop after each syllable. The rhythm reflects the meaning. Simic is a genius with language manipulation.

Personification pops up several more times, as in "the statues of Greek and Egyptian gods... looked to me as bored as I had been," and again in his crowning conclusion:

Irene ran around the yard beating up trees like the riot police and in the process telling us what little regard she has for us.

Charles Simic is clearly able to apply the beauty of poetry to prose, and the resulting effects make his essay a joy to read, whether one agrees with his anti-technology sentiments or not.

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