So there were a couple reasons I picked up Charles Simic’s (pronounced Simich due to his Serbian roots,) book of poems Scribbled in the Dark. The “Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet” subtitle’s usually a good sign, and of course we have the cute little cover featuring a charming illustration of an old man feeding pigeons.
Perhaps what drew me the most, before I cracked it open and saw the quality poetry inside of course, was the amusing image conjured up by the title. Oh crap, my new collection is due at my editor’s in an hour, what do I do? (sees pile of scribbled on post-it notes by bedside,) Okay, I can make this work. I’m Pulitzer Prize holding former poet laureate, right? That’s is like poet tenure. I could teach a class in just my underwear and they wouldn’t fire me.
In all seriousness, I connected with Simic’s work, and his chosen title. It’s a very humble name for sure, and I found that refreshing an laid back, not at all like the many pretentious efforts I’ve seen that think themselves superior because they’ve mastered superfluous line breaks and swallowing most of the page with blank space. I remember tutoring too many high school students in English, and groaning as they try to impress their teacher on the poetry assignment by
They may have also been trying to meet a page requirement. Some seemed like they just wanted to finish the assignment and figured this looked long and poetic enough, and some seemed to think they were exercising their legitimate poetic prowess. Even today, whenever I see a poet relying heavily on line breaks and blank spaces, I think back to my agonizing days as a peer tutor and get a phantom headache. Still, there are poets that know how to use these traits well, and Simic shows he’s one of those artists with this collection, and maybe also all those awards listed in his bio, too.
These pieces are a study in how to actually use brevity and open page space superbly, not just to play at looking poetic. This whole collection’s clearly grown from the concept hinted at in the title. No, not a last minute idea for the editor, but a so many small little phantoms floating onto the page from a pen, freely in the darkness. See? I only just read Simic and now I’m all waxing poetic. It’s inspirational on top of educational.
Most of these poems are short, small little things that definitely seem like they were all scribbled in the dark. They read like those little thoughts or moments of clarity that you can only have when your brain is half asleep, half awake, the cover of night allowing it to exist as both at once. That’s an annoyingly creative state for me too, and probably many others as well. (I say annoying because really I’d rather be sleeping in many of those moments, but I can usually force myself to jot some short something down, in the dark. So reading these pieces feels familiar. I’m sure they’ve been carefully drafted and edited again and again, but they each echo the way ideas slide so easily out of your head when “scribbled in the dark.”