11 may. 2011

Creeley vs. Simic

Look at how remarkably better a typical poem by Robert Creeley is than one by Charles Simic, with his lazy similes (shiver like straw) and his clichés (meek little lamb), his attempts at portentous, meaningful statement (like the last heroic soldier / of a defeated army). I'm embarrassed even to cite such phrases. All day long! The huge shears coming after the little lamb! The truth is dark under the eyelids! Give me a break. Simic is vaguely existential, Creeley is quietly specific and far more subtle. Compare the histrionic gesture of staying out a few minutes longer in the cold, and the subtlety of remembering overheard sounds of many years ago. Compare the subtlety of Creeley's music against the tuneless ear of the younger poet.

I will never forgive Simic's condescension toward Creeley in The New York Review of Books. Here was an opportunity to be generous toward a true master, and Simic chooses uncomprehending condescension. He could have learned something from Creeley's art if he had tried.

Simic's poem isn't even all that bad, you'll say. It's exactly what they teach you to write in the creative writing class, in fact. The similes, the vague portentousness straining after the "deep image," the "all day" or "all evening" cliché, the bare branches and little lamb, the first snowflake of winter. That makes the contrast all the more stark.

The truth is dark under your eyelids.
What are you going to do about it?
The birds are silent; there's no one to ask.
All day long you'll squint at the gray sky.
When the wind blows you'll shiver like straw.

A meek little lamb you grew your wool
Till they came after you with huge shears.
Flies hovered over open mouth,
Then they, too, flew off like the leaves,
The bare branches reached after them in vain.

Winter coming. Like the last heroic soldier
Of a defeated army, you'll stay at your post,
Head bared to the first snow flake.
Till a neighbor comes to yell at you,
You're crazier than the weather, Charlie.


I can't speak so
simply of whatever
was then
the fashion

of silence
everyone's-- Blue
expansive morning
and in

the lilac bush just
under window
farm house
spaces all

the teeming chatter
of innumerable birds--
I'd lie quiet

to go to sleep late
evenings in summer
such buzzes settling

of birds--The relatives
in rooms underneath
me murmuring--
Listened hard to catch

faint edges of sounds
through blurs of fading
spectrum now out
there forever.

5 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

I remembered your distaste, and now I can't help but share it. Look at their line endings -- Creeley actually works with them, Simic just stops.

Simic's review of the Collecteds is here; his next piece in the NYRB was titled A Great Twentieth-Century Poet, referring naturally to E. A. Robinson.

zbs dijo...

A hilarious quote before we get cut off by the subscription notice: "Creeley not only wrote keenly about love, he was also a man with interesting ideas about literature".

Jonathan dijo...

unlike Simic, who really doesn't have ideas about literature.

Shedding Khawatir dijo...

The Simic poem reminds me of a line from one of my favorite books (The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery) where a character looks at an epitaph and remarks that "it looks like poetry but it doesn't sound like it."

Jonathan dijo...

Yes, like people who seem to know a lot about poetry but can't actually write poetry, though it seems as though they should be able to.