charles simic's attack on Robert Creeley

The first internet riposte to Charles (nee Dusan) Simic, was from Diane Di Prima, who noted that his comments concerning Robert Creeley were "snide...and stink of sour grapes". I agree, and it goes beyond even that. What are these "sour grapes" of the man who claimed he was a friend to Mr. Creeley for 40 years, yet chooses to spew his spurious slime upon him in a way he never would dare do if Bob were alive. Betrayal of a friend is not a matter to be taken lightly, especially when that friend cannot now speak for himself. In a way, it is akin to old nazi Gunter Grass's claim that he was a friend to Jakov Lind, saying this only after Jakov's death of course.

Like most American poets these days, Simic likes to be politically correct, signing off on the Iraq invasion, but it is unlikely he has ever put himself on the line in a demonstration or a vigil.

One wonders why so many women, like Stepford Wives, fawn over his self-hating versification. "The little wife always alone ironing death's laundry" he writes. And "it is good to have a woman around...and two is even better" he writes in another verse.

Worse, there runs the leitmotif of infantile voyeurism throughout his clunking stanzas - women in various states of undress, or unobtainable, or dead. And worse than that, animal cruelty - blind cats and miner's canaries squeaking in pain he takes an inordinate glee in mentioning.

Guilt shrouds what he writes, and in one of his verses he looks down upon his brother and sister who died at birth and sees them not in the motes of the air or elsewhere in nature but gaping at him though the animal skins on his feet. There is a complete lack of compassion in any of his verse. He seems to want his readers to suffer a similar kind of pain he himself claims to have suffered as a Serb in what was Yugoslavia before coming to the U.S. as a teen. If in fact he did indeed suffer deprivation. We have only his word for it. The word of a man who betrays a friend is not to be trusted. There is much unconscious hatred of his father, and his attitude was also a result of his mother's smothering him under her overcoat so he wouldn't have to confront the corpses of WWII. At least this is what he says. The repressions of course return in his dreams. He says that he was "so poor I had to take the place of the bait in the mousetrap" but he is not poor any more. Not with $100,000 Wallace Stevens awards, and MacArthur grants, and not that he lacks clout, given his professorship and his Pulitzer and his editorship of Paris Review and now the laureateship. Follow the money. He is a Manchurian Candidate of sorts, and of course it is to be expected that those in power in this world will do all they can to reify their positions, and many of the poets laureate of America have written things which, if put in a hat and shuffled about and taken out and read, would all pretty much sound alike. It is shameful. There are exceptions of course.

There is something nasty in Simic's condescending to characters appearing in his writing. All of his verses are marked by denial. The apparent horror of his dreams, which gives a cheap thrill akin to the peeping-tom quality which pervades his writing, is translated into a rational and received syntax which dissipates any interest they may possess, other than the prurient. His squiggles are personal observations in somewhat sarcastic clothing and an insult to sensitivity. The world is not enriched by what he has done. It is poetry as fast food, adolescent stuff you can wolf down like a hamburger and then go back to cable TV. His stanzas are all notations of easy despair, and his success is due to a narrow-minded group of people with an equally "narrow concept of the poetic tradition" and to the dumbing-down of American life. It is repetitive verse as a form of narcisisstic therapy. He sounds a bitter, bitter man. His verses are pedestrian and filled with bile. His newish book, My Noiseless Entourage (2005) , is banal and vapid and of course is blurbed by the NY Times, New Yorker, and Harvard Review.

In his unwarranted attack on the man he claims was his friend for 40 years, he lets the guise of civility drop and chooses , as Lisa Jarnot points out on her blog, to stick "his head up his ass." Simic's defecation in the guise of an essay on Creeley's COLLECTED is simply unconscionable and reprehensible.

Obviously, his attack on Robert Creeley is informed by some sort of jealousy, and, quite obviously, it is totally inaccurate. He has the unmitigated gall to call Creeley's work after For Love (poems 1950-1960) "superficial" and "instantly forgettable" and he says Creeley "doesn't have a rich imaginative life" and that for the most part he writes "so-so" poems, especially during much of the last thirty years of his life. What Diane Di Prima correctly notes is that Simic is not only "uptight" but also lacking in the understanding of nuance, and like many other poets still, for some reason, fearful of the spontaneous.

Here is Creeley's beautiful poem "The World" (from Words, 1967):

I wanted so ably
to reassure you, I wanted
the man you took to be me,

to comfort you, and got
up, and went to the window,
pushed back, as you asked me to,

the curtain, to see
the outline of the trees
in the night outside.

The light, love,
the light we felt then,
greyly, was it, that

came in, on us, not
merely my hands or yours,
or a wetness so comfortable,

but in the dark then
as you slept, the grey
figure came so close

and leaned over,
between us, as you
slept, restless, and

my own face had to
see it, and be seen by it,
the man it was, your

grey lost tired bewildered
brother, unused, untaken -
hated by love, and dead,

but not dead, for an
instant, saw me, myself
the intruder, as he was not.

I tried to say, it is
all right, she is
happy, you are no longer

needed. I said,
he is dead, and he
went as you shifted

and woke, at first afraid,
then knew by my own knowing
what had happened -

and the light then
of the sun coming
for another morning
in the world.

What Creeley accomplishes is to give a tonal weight to the words. It is akin to Hokusai, the brush-strokes are Zen-like, and this ability is so honed as the years pass that there is an exactitude of language even greater than in the early work, a here-and-now quality, never a prefabrication. He has "nothing to say about history" Simic stupidly says, projecting his own failure unto another, as if the newly appointed laureate had written of Srebinica, or of anything except his own abyss.

On the dustjacket of If I Were Writing This (2003), Creeley says: "Given the bleak vulnerability of the world and of our own country's dogmatic commitment to violence, what can either poet or poetry do? For one thing, insist on feeling - insist on witness..." As Paul Celan had written: Who will bear witness for the witness? Some of us are "still here, you bastards" and we will continue to speak truth to power.

Finally, for now at any rate, in yet another of his verses, Simic, with no intended irony, writes: "Of rats who came to pay me a visit, I had the highest opinion." No doubt.