cover image A Wedding in Hell: Poems

A Wedding in Hell: Poems

Charles Simic. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $19.95 (79pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100123-1

The world according to Simic (Hotel Insomnia) has never been an especially nice place, and his new collection of poems registers no signs of improvement. Urban decay, war and the depravities of false priests and corrupt rulers provide the occasions for much of this work, where private desperation is seen to be our lot and any respite momentary, at best. The knack of Simic's poetry is to have found a voice to reflect on such matters without sounding solemn or maudlin-a plainspoken, slightly wary voice that wins our confidence by its apparent modesty and our gratitude by its power to surprise, accommodating cynicism and injured outcries. Still, nothing that Simic says, however humanly concerned, is without the salt of irony, sometimes heavily applied. Even his approach to poetic form has become ironic: surrealist images, used to startling effect in his early books, are now more commonly deployed as near cliches, persuading us there's nothing new under the sun; individual poems have a self-consciously throwaway quality, as if to advise us that they are no better than anything else. And yet Simic's poetry comforts and (ironically) charms us, too, even as it insists that it is only ``like the wind/ Between the cold winter stars./ A creaky door/ Way out in the darkness./ Some kind of small bird/ Trapped by a cat/ And calling on heaven to witness.'' (Nov.)