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This review is taken from PN Review 137, Volume 27 Number 3, January - February 2001.

A LONG WAY FROM HOME CHARLES SIMIC, Jackstraws (Faber) £8.99

For all that he has lived in the United States since boyhood, and although American demotic and the American landscape (usually an urban one) are amply represented in his work, it is still hard to think of Charles Simic as an American poet. This is very much the stripped-down poetry we associate with Eastern Europe, a style of writing where 'less is more', characterised by a sardonic wit or gallows-humour, by dark surrealism, with elements of folk-tale or fable, and a tendency towards allegory. Above all there is a sense of the precariousness of individual life.

Even in his eroticism one feels there is less of the masculinist bravado characteristic of the American tradition (one thinks of fiction-writers like Hemingway, Mailer, Updike) than the lightness of touch and acuteness of observation we find, say, in a writer like Milan Kundera. In 'Prison Guards Silhouetted Against the Sky' the narrator presses the girl to slip off her bra:

The sky was darkening, there was thunder
When she finally did so, so that the first large
Raindrop wet one of her brown nipples.

It is also typical of Simic that the poem begins in the dentist's chair and ends with the state prison and its armed guards. A state of menace jaunts his work. He remains very much the boy from Belgrade for whom, as he tells us, Hitler and Stalin were his travel agents.

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