Poetry Friday: Charles Simic can visit my library any time.

h1 October 3rd, 2008 by eisha

Illustration from The Possibility of Angels by Peter Malone.I just saw Charles Simic, recent Poet Laureate, give a reading at Cornell. He was amazing. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I didn’t expect him to be so… funny. I don’t think I really got his poetry until I heard him read it. He’s got this fabulous mix of accents from a well-traveled life: childhood in Yugoslavia, youth in New York City and Chicago, and now he lives in rural New Hampshire. And in a brusque, matter-of-fact, self-deprecating way, he told these stories about how he came to write the poems he read. For example, his book of prose poetry, The World Doesn’t End, came about because he had to write a four-page autobiography for an encyclopedia, and he kept imagining “more interesting versions” of his own life. His delivery just made everything click for me. As the professor who introduced him said, if you are not familiar with his poetry and books, your life is diminished – but don’t worry, that’s what bookstores and libraries are for. I would have added – and Poetry Friday.

So here I am, doing my part, sharing one of the poems he read. It has now become one of my favorites, for obvious reasons. It’s called “In the Library”:

There’s a book called
“A Dictionary of Angels.”
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Click here to read the rest, so you’ll know what I mean when I say:

Oh yes, the books are whispering. I hear them too, Miss Jones.

* * * * * * *

Guess who’s on Poetry Friday round-up? It’s Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers. Ya’ll know it’ll be good.

18 comments to “Poetry Friday: Charles Simic can visit my library any time.”

  1. Eisha, Thank you for putting some angels and flies into my morning and for the flashback it set me on. I was so lucky to take a modern poetry course with Simic way back in the day at grad school at UNH. Your description of his manner brought it back: we were all in a swoon reading Emily Dickinson with him.

  2. Eisha,

    I have to admit that I haven’t always “gotten” Simic’s poetry. Maybe I should take another look at his work. I do think that hearing a writer talk about about his/her poetry can give a reader a better understanding/appreciation of his/her work.

  3. Oooo! I hear those angels too! I’m going to have to find more of Cimic’s work and listen up.

  4. Oh, wow. I’ve read “Angels and gods huddled / In dark unopened books” before (and have always loved it) but have never read the poem in its entirety. That’s lovely. Thanks, e.

  5. I have a picture I clipped from the newspaper ages ago — a woman in an angel costume walking up the Embarcadero in San Francisco. That photograph came immediately to mind upon reading this poem. Gorgeous, gorgeous, including your illustration. Perfect for today. I need to open more of the books and keep listening for the angels.

  6. TadMack, that illustration is actually on a book cover of an anthology Eisha bought me once. I think it’s called The Possibility of Angels, though don’t quote me on that. An Amazon and other-book-sites’ search shows me it must be out of print. I’ll have to find the book here in my book-laden home.

  7. You’re right, J. If you click on the pic, you’ll see an interview with the artist showing more of his stuff.

    Thanks, everyone else, for chiming in. Jeannine, I’m seriously jealous you had a whole class with him.

  8. What a great poem! Now I am intrigued to read more by this author. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I’m totally sad that I missed it! And who introduced him, by the way? Was it Ken McClane? The “diminished” thing sounds like him.

  10. Second the comments already here: lovely poem, lovely illustration.

    (TadMack: I thought it would be very cool if I could find that newspaper photo you mentioned somewhere online, but have come up empty-handed. Drat. Closest I came was a handful of photos of a woman who wore an angel costume for something called the, uh, Tour of Cycling? something like that, a couple years ago.)

    While researching a short story years ago, about the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert, I went to the NY Public Library to consult train schedules from that time. Of course, since this WAS the NYPL, they had such schedules, fetched for me by a kind librarian. They came in a cardboard box, which I opened in the main reading room. As soon as I did: confetti. The pages were brittle as crackers but, of course, paper-thin, and from all the flakes you’d think I had an aging angel of my own sitting on my shoulder, shedding tiny feathers.

  11. Yeah, Dana, it was Ken McClane, and he was hilarious too.

    JES, what a great story. You just wrote a little prose poem yourself in that comment.

  12. How is it that I’ve never heard this poem before? Thanks for featuring it. I’m going to put it up in the staff room, see if anyone notices.

  13. I actually have a signed copy of the Dictionary of Angels, knew the author, the sweet gentleman Gustav Davidson, have used it often for writing stories and poems. I like the Simic poem, but disagree with its premise that no one has opened that book in 50 years. (Not sure it was published 50 years ago. Maybe just.)


  14. […] Eisha has a fantastic post about recent Poet Laureate Simic. […]

  15. adrienne, every librarian should wear a copy of this poem pinned over her heart.

    Jane, dang, that sounds like a treasure. But I wonder if there isn’t more than one Dictionary of Angels? Or if Simic was hyperbolizing. Poetic license and all that.

  16. I really like this poem! Thanks for sharing this.

  17. This post made me scrounge around in my journals for the three Simic poems I had copied there. Maybe if I can find a legit source to link to, I’ll post one for PF.

    Wasn’t the patron saint of libraries feast day last week or something? Saints…angels…libraries…it can’t all be unplanned, how natural they all seem together.

  18. From my conversation with Charles Simic: “She is trying to get away from something. It’s not clear who she is or where she is going. But I remember her face. She was frightened. When I was young, my mother and I had to flee like that too. The poems try to convey the point of view of the innocent bystander.” For the rest of the interview, visit http://bit.ly/nyttk

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