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This review is taken from PN Review 181, Volume 34 Number 5, May - June 2008.

THE WARNING CANARY Charles Simic, That Little Something (Harcourt)

Charles Simic, current American Poet Laureate, has lived in the United States since 1952 but acknowledges that he is still haunted by the 1940s and a youth spent in wartime and as a displaced person in his native Yugoslavia (now Serbia). Simic's poetry always seems to carry with it an old suitcase, scuffed and battered, wrapped with heavy twine, which holds his dreadful memories of Europe's cataclysm, memories that always bust out in poems that usually begin quietly. Simic's suitcase is talismanic (his 'Rosebud') but it also signifies his continued state of displacement, the refugee's fear that at any moment life can crash in on you and you'll have to grab your stuff and go. Simic doesn't write history or memory poems, but the force of history underlies his verse. The events of the last few years, beginning with the Balkan Wars of the 1990s down to 9/11, contribute to Simic's jitteriness, and the creation of poems in which the known world is always in danger of making a swerve into the surreal.

The presence of the past in Simic's poetry is evoked because he is one of the few contemporary poets who appears to have been influenced by William Carlos Williams, a poet who seems almost forgotten now. People remember Patterson and the credo 'no ideas but in things' as important milestones in American modernism, but the way that Williams actually wrote seems to have passed American literature by. Williams, probably from a ...

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