From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This 20th collection from the former U.S. poet laureate (My Noiseless Entourage) departs only by degrees from his poems of earlier decades--but it could just be his best book. Like most of Simic's work, these new poems end up short and sad, setting mysterious, wry, even Kafkaesque, scenes in which nobody gets what anyone wants: "A dark little country store full of gravediggers' children buying candy./ (That's how we looked that night.)" Simic served as laureate in the last years of the Bush administration, and some of his new poems may reflect that experience: they attack, with a pessimistic asperity, callous military officers, bloodthirsty states and unnecessary wars, along with a weary or cynical America: "the TV is on in the living room,/ Canned laughter in the empty house/ Like the sound of beer cans tied to a coffin." Simic alludes quietly to the war-ravaged Serbia he fled as a child. But the "ragged puppets" who populate Simic's stanzas are not always so foredoomed: in an 11-part sequence called "The Invisible," Simic modulates into a restrained and deeply moving lyric lament, admiring a dragonfly for his clear wings, a crow who was once "a professor of philosophy," and a "Bird comforting the afflicted/ With your song."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Simic’s compact poems carry concealed weapons amid unnerving juxtapositions. In “Nineteen Thirty-Eight,” the Nazis take Vienna; Stalin is on a killing spree; and among the newborn are Superman, Dairy Queen, and, in Belgrade, the future sardonic poet now of Pulitzer and poet laureate renown. Simic senses that the unseen and the unheard constitute a parallel universe we are oblivious to, yet affected by and responsible for. In Simic’s shadowy lyrics, people fail each other. A child is abused behind closed doors. A neighbor asks to borrow a candle in “Solitude,” and the two loners can’t even give each other the light of their company. Exiled “former cabinet ministers” and the like are experts in “the use of murder to improve the world.” Life is a “master of disguises,” as are death, hope, and love. One line encapsulates Simic’s sensibility: “It was such a sad story, it made everyone laugh.” Simic’s edgy, brooding poems are like saxophone solos played under a bridge in the deep, dark hours of the spinning world’s bruising insomnia. --Donna Seaman