In his new book of poetry, a Pulitzer Prize winner returns to the New York City of his youth
Charles Simic is Yugoslav and American, skeptic and believer, a poet convinced, as he once wrote, that "writing is always a rough translation from wordlessness into words." Poetry "attracts me because it makes trouble for thinkers," he has declared. "Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them. We are always at the beginning, eternal apprentices, thrown back again and again into that condition."
In his new collection, The Book of Gods and Devils (Paperback Forecasts, Oct. 12), coming this month from Harcourt Brace Jovanich, Simic also returns to a "beginning" of another kind: his early years (1958-1961) in New York City. In "The Initiate" he writes, "In that whole city you could hear a pin drop./ Believe me,/ I thought I heard a pin drop and I went looking for it." The poetry's locale is 14th Street, Hell's Kitchen and the old Fourth Avenue booksellers' row, where readers find the figure of a young man pursuing "the great secret which kept eluding me:/knowing who I am..."
"I came to New York in August of 1958, and it was amazingly simple," Simic recalls. "I would work at some place for a few months, and quit. I'd live the life of a bohemian. Then I'd realize I was running out of money, and I'd get a haircut--and a new job. I had all sorts of office jobs. I got to be pretty good at bookkeeping. I went to school at NYU; it took me 10 years to get a B.A. at night. All that seemed perfectly fine. It was great to be in New York and have a job and buy records and go to movies and jazz clubs. All those street scenes, sights, made a tremendous impression on my mind--I have an endless anthology of them.