October 2, 2008

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The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks, by Charles Simic, Ausable Press, 2008, 109 pages
By Dan Szczesny dszczesny@hippopress.com
What to make of Charles Simic? The latest book by New Hampshire’s most awarded living poet (most recently U.S. Poet Laureate) is just plain perplexing, and not in a typical Simic-like good way. This collection of notebook tidbits is presented so completely out of context that it is hard to understand why it was published at all. Ostensibly, these notebook scribblings cover all of Simic’s very long career and are broken down into five sections. The first has some vague autobiographical connections, the second seems like lay-about lines that might have been throw-aways for poems. The rest? Perhaps Simic’s biographer or a graduate student could discern the rhyme or reason, but I was not able to.

This is the type of collection that is typically published posthumously, perhaps chronologically and with ample footnotes. The Monster Loves His Labyrinth has none of that.

Without context, I can only assume that we are to deconstruct this collection ourselves and read the passages as their own separate poems. That improves the lot somewhat, mainly because Simic is such a damn fine writer that even his midnight scribblings are enough to hold your attention. The notebooks are filled with such knockout lines as “The child beaters took their little son to church on Sundays,” “Free the guppies,” and “Nationalism is the love of the smell of our collective s**t.” Great stuff, but void of greater meaning. But knowing Simic, maybe that’s the whole point. Simic isn’t easy. His work demands attention and engagement and that’s certainly true of this collection.

He might have gone too far this time, though. CDan Szczesny