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Master of Disguises Hardcover – October 6, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (October 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547397097
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547397092
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,393,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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."
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From Booklist

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

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Hope Whitby on February 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Master of Disguises is Simic's first volume of poetry since he served as poet laureate of the United States in 2007-2008. Charles Simic is a literary artist. His poems paint images that walk a thin line between innocence and guilt, between what one struggles to remember and what he desperately wants to forget, and between what is truth and what is myth.
The opening poem, The Invisible One, tells of a child kept for years in a closet by his crazy parents on a street you walked often. In Nineteen Thirty-eight, a poem about the day Simic was born, we learn it was the year the Nazis marched into Vienna. And in Dead Season, you are transported to a landscape with somber skies that must have fallen in love with a story by Edgar Allan Poe.
Intrigued? I thought so. These 52 poems won't disappoint.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By RWordplay on June 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It seems always twilight in Simic's poems, or night, or somewhere in between. Even if the sun is rising, or it is noon, it seems the poet is watching from the shadows, or entering the shadows. And, there is always the presence of death, but a weightless death, that doesn't bear down too heavily; more often welcomed than feared. The person of the undertaker, the barber, the man on a corner, has no more weight or dignity than the pigeon, or the sparrow, the dog in the front yard. Things are small and specific; images intact and real and clearly seen, yet everything remains a mystery that won't be solved, not in the poet's or the reader's lifetime.

At a time where everything is over lit, Simic reveals how little is actually illuminated, and where everything is over orchestrated, he suggests the best we can manage is noise. Simic's little poems challenge both our utopian daydreams and dystopian nightmares. The past, present and future condition is simply loneliness. Nothing grander or more tragic: loneliness is the natural state of things and not psychological in origin. Which is to say it is not treatable. If I had to put down the two ideas that align most closely in these poems it is isolation and passivity. There are no heroes, no great acts required. There is no volition, because all paths converge.

It all comes down to objects. Objects isolated as insects pinned on a page, or object aligned as carefully as Victorian family portraits. Objects and beings share space, each with its role: if there is a door, someone will knock, if there are a pair of eyes, they will look into a stranger's window. If there is a sky, it exists to reveal a crow, and on a sidewalk a pigeon or sparrow.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Charles Simic's 2010 book, Master of Disguises, was his first published after his 2007-2008 term as US Poet Laureate. In this his twentieth collection of poetry, his longtime followers will recognize the master's hand at work. His odd sense of rhythm and subtle work with sound are accompanied by a weight of meaning that is readily apparent even when his exact meaning is not. For those new to Simic, this is not to say that his work is obtuse or vague. No, his poems are easily accessible. There are few, if any, hidden messages to uncover. However, there are mysteries to solve in this volume of poetry.

At times reading Master of Disguises is akin to walking through a gallery of carefully crafted puzzles. The poems frequently investigate events and people of unknown or unclear origin. There are usually more than enough clues for the reader to find an identity for the subject, but Simic does not give them away. He asks his reader to carefully consider each subject in order to ascertain a meaning or identity.

As a whole it is meaning and identity that Simic seems to be working with in this fascinating volume. The book allows the reader to discover meaning in the poems for themselves. In fact, the reader may begin to ask questions for themselves. What does it mean to be homeless or a shut-in spinster? Who is that older man, you see twice a week coming out of the drycleaners? Who is behind the mask? What is beneath the disguise? All questions are left open for the reader to think over.

Occasionally the text will stray from presenting puzzles for the reader to solve. At those times the poems move into personal exploration. Two examples of this are found in the second of five sections, near the middle of the work.
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By Kitty Eppard on February 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What Simic is not a 5 Star!
How can he keep surprising us. Each book is the same only better. ha!
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25 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Healy on October 10, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The poor formatting of lines and stanzas on the Kindle edition made the book for me unreadable. I returned the Kindle purchase. I wrote to to explain the problem. I love the poems. I just could not bear to read them on the Kindle, not knowing how the author had arranged the words on the page. Why does it matter so much how the words are arranged on the page? The same words, in the same sequence, what's the problem? The problem is, the line breaks and the stanza breaks are a part of the message, a part of the meaning. If you're reading the poem aloud to an audience, you will read the physical layout of the words on the page as clues, as cues, that suggest to you how to deliver the words. Like a jazz musician will use marks on the page to decide how to play those notes, what parts of the body, brain, heart, stomach are brought to together in the emerging sound.
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