Wednesday, February 23, 2011

the monster loves his labyrinth

Saul Steinberg, Charles Simic, 1993
"What do poets really want?" 
I was asked that once by a clever professor of philosophy. It was late at night and we were drinking a lot of wine, so I just said the first thing that came into my mind: "They want to know about things that cannot be put into words." 

--Charles Simic, The Monster Loves His Labyrinth


My dear friend Suki, knows I am smitten with Charles Simic, and was kind enough to surprise me with a copy of his The Monster Loves His Labyrinth:  Notebooks, a collection of his intelligent, sexy notebook entries, gathered over decades.  Since I, too, keep a notebook handy to jot special words and ideas, I find his little epigrams, observations and vignettes fascinating.

Browsing through Simic's random notes is like crawling inside his head and taking a peek at his gathered mental ephemera; charming tidbits like "snow arriving this morning at my door like a mail-order bride" or "a poem like a holy icon, painted in secret hope that some day a god may come to inhabit it miraculously".

I am a born collector, so keeping an assortment of chunky spiral notebooks (one at my desk, one one my bedside table for late night visits from my muse, and one in my handbag) of odd words and quirky phrases, comes second nature to me. In the process of writing poetry, I refer to them often, like a favorite cookbook.

In case you happen to be unfamiliar with my crush, Charles Simic born in Yugoslavia in 1938, Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing at the University of NH, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990 and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry in 1996. In 2007 he was appointed Poet Laureate and received the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets.

41 comments:

  1. ha. i love that quote...and what a treasure your friend sent you...

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  2. How wnderful for Suki to send that to you
    Every writer/poet has such books on their shelves
    glad you now have this one
    and yes..notebooks,the writer's box,..everything that stirs our minds to write..kept like gold

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  3. A big Simic fan myself. And a dasher down of thoughts and notes.

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  4. I too have that same collection of notebooks. What an exciting gift.

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  5. I wish that I were more poetry than prose. It is a gift to touch souls with a few well placed words.

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  6. I bet your chunky notebooks are also a sexy, fun read. I'd bet good money on that.

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  7. I'm not familiar with him but you have piqued my interest with just that quote.

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  8. What a wonderful post! Thanks

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  9. Interesting. And I just remembered reading this..

    "A poem is an invitation to a voyage. As in life, we travel to see fresh sights." - Charles Simic

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  10. and the painter's comment.... Love the drawing!

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  11. i keep paper on my nightstand, in my car, on my desk......but only little legal pads or post it notes. am taking a note from your page and am considering a switch to chunky notebooks.

    your quote reminds me of lorenzo's current post about the opposite of memory. things that cannot be put into words, places where memories go when they are not remembered. what lovely things to contemplate.

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  12. Love the quote and short bio...thank you for sharing....bkm

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  13. I can't get enough of discovering how artists and writers journal, and find/record inspiration and manage/interpret the creative process in general. This looks like a treasure - I may have to get my hands on it.

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  14. i did this same thing for a couple years and ended up writing a book from it...is a great way to garner ideas, and to look back on for inspiration.
    really need to get back into the practice...thanks

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  15. I am not familiar with your writer crush, but I feel I should look into him. Maybe you were the start of a new crush, who knows?

    As for your notebooks, I also keep a multitude of them. I pulled three from my purse just this morning, and placed them back in their assigned places (bedside table, beside my reading chair, on my desk, and in my purse).
    I do not call myself a writer but as one who aspires to such a title, I can say... it is a writers best tool, pen to paper.

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  16. I, too, have kept a notebook at hand for many years. I even keep one stuffed into the pocket of all my coats. Charles Simic is delicious! What a fabulous gift.

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  17. Love the Saul Steinberg sketch. Glad you are enjoying the book. Once, I kept many notebooks on many things. Now, just one notebook and it is very boring. It is such a treat to read a writers' special notebook. Voyeuristic a tad perhaps.? Thanks for mentioning my name.

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  18. Love the quote (so different from what I would have answered). ;-)

    I see we have different tastes in notebooks:
    I never ever use spirals. They make me feel afraid of scratching a surface. Wonder if there is any hidden childhood trauma. ;-)

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  19. Merisi, yes, there must be something deep in your childhood with the spiral notebooks. :^) Not to worry; I don't think there's a single surface at Willow Manor that isn't already quite scratched!

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  20. our posts are cousins today.

    loves his notes. i bet yours would be equally as evocative.

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  21. I wonder - do you go back and read your notebooks? I had a friend in college who had been writing in them all her life but wouldn't read any pages after she was done writing (or drawing on them). I have long since lost touch with her but I sometimes wonder if she has ever changed her mind (now that we are decades older) and read them.

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  22. Jeanette, yes! I tap into my collections of words, phrases and ideas for my poetry. Like I say in my post, I refer to them often, like a favorite cookbook. I really do.

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  23. Thanks to your introduction, Tess, I'm also reading Simic, these days. What a find!

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  24. Tess~
    I keep a small moleskine in my bag at all times. Inspiration and "confoundation" happen everywhere! It is necessary to be prepared.

    And I've found that some of the meandering afterwards and marginalia turn out to be the better stuff. Go figure!

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  25. Thanks for the intro to Simic. Must look him up!

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  26. Tess -- talk of chunky notebooks -- I too have many filled with all types of notations. Have lost many of my early one due to moving around the country often.

    Simic is unfamiliar to me -- will check him out

    -- barbara

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  27. You had me at a "collection of his intelligent, sexy notebook entries"

    I must see this!

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  28. Reading someone else's notebooks...like reading their diaries...is just delicious! He appears to be a pretty good artist too...

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  29. I Am Speechless, But only in a verbal way!
    Suki Rocks! X

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  30. My chunky notebooks are filled with favourite quotes, all written in different ink colours. And I do refer to them often.
    I am not familiar with Simic...thanks for pointing me in that direction!

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  31. Read Simic in college, where I had a crush on him and a large number of poets.

    I'm a notebook junkie, too, the more, the merrier, in car, purse, backpack, bedside, kitchen...

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  32. I don't know Simic at all but I love the idea of the mail order bride.

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  33. There must be something about certain characteristics that pool together : born collector, notebook-keeper, blog writer. Same ingredients, similar brew and a knowledge of what you like, I'll probably like. Off to look up Simic (just written his name down in my note-book)

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  34. The Simic quote is priceless, and thanks for the insight into your process. This is definitely feeding and regurgitation of words by the birds of the soul.

    One of my essential texts during my maddest years (amid too much booze & drugs, I was suffering from countless petit mal seizures & suicidal longings) was Theodore Roethke's "Straw For The Fire," a collection of snatches of verse which didn't make it all the way into poems. Fragments of his mind sustained me through one of the hardest winters I've experienced. One night, drunk and raging, I came home, started a fire in the fireplace and fed pages of the book to the flames, each page a prayer for sanity. Dunno if the gesture was simply drunken nonsense or motions of a mad mind, but I did survive that winter. And still have that half-book, shorn of cover and the first half of its pages, what remains an essential part of the foundation on which I built my singing aeirie. - Brendan

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  35. You never to cease to amaze me .

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  36. Great quote! He's a sly one, Mr. Simic.

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  37. What an interesting collection. Lucky you to have a friend who enjoys giving surprise gifts. I must check this book out.

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  38. Getting caught up with you today and enjoying it immensely. l.o.v.e. the new header!

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Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)