Often thought provoking and animating, Charles Simic is a poet who is able to provide wit without coming off as pretentious, he is able to ask big questions in such simple language. His war-torn background (once quoting that Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were his “travel agents”), Simic brought the memories from poverty stricken Yugoslavia to America, where he used his new opportunities to write about some of the harsh truths of the world today. Now a PulizterPrize winner and owner of many other personal and literary accomplishments, I chose to look at poems from one of Simic’s books of poetry. A Wedding in Hell, published in 1994, is yet another salt on the wound we like to call our world, with poems like “Paradise Motel”, “Tattooed City”, and “Sinister Company”. All three titles of these poems create an image of dark, tragic, and maybe even frightening topics. Weddings are the bond that is made between two people out of love, concern, and genuine care for the other. By addressing a wedding as a dark and “hellish” experience, Charles Simic’s book has a title that challenges the reader to read furthermore and discover for themselves how something so happy, loving, and pure can have a dark side.
Without preaching about how fortunate we are to be living where we do with the luxuries that we have, “Paradise Motel” is still able to muster up the guilt I and many others may share from time to time about turning away from news that we do not want to hear. This poem, narrating a story of the speaker watching television in the dark room, eventually changes the channel after watching news of war, heavy artillery and bloodshed, along with political discussions about the situation. It reminded me of people I know who say that they do not watch the news or keep up with current events like they should because “the news is too depressing”. This poem reminds me, as does the television and the media in general that the real world is not very beautiful at times, as ugly, tragic, and dark things happen all over. Speaking of the war on the television like a “love potion”, Simic is able to mimic real world conversation about world politics today, where only the biggest and most gruesome events will become highly publicized. This “love potion” the speaker is mentioning is nothing more than the events we cling to, the ones we are almost addicted to; it seems as though in our fast paced highly publicized world, there are some things that we cannot let go of as quickly. The last two lines of this poem, where the television colors change from an overload of red to a mass amount of pink hints of our own ignorance in a world with dark (often red, from bloodshed) realities with our ‘rose (pink) colored goggles’.
Seen throughout most metropolis areas, graffiti often seems to be deemed as a form of ‘art’ or ‘vandalism’, it depends on the person looking at it. In “Tattooed City”, Simic talks about it as something that is an “incomprehensible scribble”, that carries heavy baggage. People get tattoos for many different reasons, in the memory or honor of a beloved person or moment, or to adorn and decorate their bodies, or to represent a battle scar. In many ways, our very own “tattooed city”, with its’ art and memories, may draw us to our own emotion and pain, our own battle scars that hold heavy in our hearts. The city has and will continue to move on long after us, yet the city’s tattoos, its battle scars in many ways resemble our own.
A dark poem, “Sinister Company” narrates literally a blind, deaf, and homeless man following their “King”. This person they eventually go over to, has nothing in his pockets but holes, symbolizing the wealth that is not there. Even if there is a small amount of change, it is nothing substantial. Yet, to these people living in poverty, who need the money the most, he is a king. A “paper crown” or fake crown is placed on this person’s head. In many ways, this flimsy, faulty, paper crown can symbolize the faulty appearances we may put on, such has acting like we have wealth an living beyond our means, spending the money when we do not have it. Our own “paper crowns” could also consist of faulty relationships, some not being genuine or with a personal agenda, disregarding the others left with nothing. This is lack of authenticity in our personal lives can bleed over to what others may see, creating a very false perception of who we are, making us seem higher or mightier than others while in fact, we may be going through the same things as well. In this poem, Simic uses this paper crown on the speaker to address what us as readers should be mindful of.
Millions were dead; everybody was innocent.
I stayed in my room. The President
Spoke of war as of a magic love potion.
My eyes were opened in astonishment.
In a mirror my face appeared to me
Like a twice-canceled postage stamp.
I lived well, but life was awful.
there were so many soldiers that day,
So many refugees crowding the roads.
Naturally, they all vanished
With a touch of the hand.
History licked the corners of its bloody mouth.
On the pay channel, a man and a woman
Were trading hungry kisses and tearing off
Each other's clothes while I looked on
With the sound off and the room dark
Except for the screen where the color
Had too much red in it, too much pink.
I, who am only an incomprehensible
Bit of doodle myself,
On some tenement wall,
Some subway entrance.
Heart pierced by an arrow.
Scratch of a parking maid
On a parked hearse.
Just the other day
On a busy street
You stopped to search your pockets
For some change
When you noticed them following you:
Blind, deaf, mad, and homeless,
Out of respect keeping their distance.
You are our King! They shouted.
The world's greatest lion tamer!
As for your pockets,
There was a hole in each one.
At which they close,
Touching you everywhere,
Raising a paper crown to your head.
Robert M. Blake wrote what is considered a young adult book of poetry, but the meaning of these short poems resonates with anyone who has ever lost a loved one. In the process of writing about death, he also touches on the concept of being broken. In his dedication, includes a poem that speaks about broken people with broken lives. He writes:
The world is filled
with broken people
with broken lives
searching for broken love.
And that is why being
alone has never
felt so good.
I can't see myself
with the crowd.
I never have.
In the overview of the book, it mentions that he wrote this for anyone who has lost someone in death. It is a collection of the experiences and the memories that were created after one of his brothers had died. He had failed to write something he promised to his brother before his brother died and therefore felt like he had to write this book because of the impact of that broken promise and what it felt like to be left behind.
The dedication of the book he creates a very powerful symbol. Blake writes “Love is a violent/flower blooming in/the middle of my bones”. At its beginnings, he set the tone of the pain that love can bring. Knowing that this was written in order to discuss the topic of death, it shows that even though you may love someone it will still hurt and be active as well as actively painful. It is something beautiful in the flower, but it is also violent.
Oddly enough, however, the continuation of his work is primarily a collection of pieces of advice that he gives in the form of a sentence or two that make up the entirety of the poem, which is then visually divided. In the first poem that I selected called “The Inner Truth”, Blake talks about the concept of advice and how to you to give others advice, especially when you cannot follow it yourself. On the surface this may not seem to hold symbolism, but the entire concept is a symbol for the frustration with which each of us lives. We know what we're supposed to do, but doing it is a whole different prospect. Therefore, although there is not a direct symbol, such as a flower representing the beauty of love, this represents the frustration that each person holds in trying to do what they should do in the struggle against what is easier or more fun.
Symbolizing frustration continues in his poem “Save You”. The poem gives another person a really good reason to stay around. Then other words, it is clear that someone wishes to leave this world or is being forced to leave it and the narrator of the poem is begging them to stay because there's so much more that they could experience. Of course, neither the narrator nor the subject has the power to choose against death and there lies the frustration. Although these poems are very simple and the example of this poem is just one sentence broken into visual sections, there is a very powerful symbolism behind them in discussing the frustration of losing someone he in contrast with what life really means.
In the final poem that I selected, there is a certain amount of resignation. Blake has written about the problem of love and hate in this world. He is resigned to what he can control and what he can't control which is different from the frustration that he expresses in his first two poems. By the time I got to this poem, I began to feel like he was suddenly starting to go into the acceptance stage. Even though it is not very far into the book, there is still a certain amount of hope that is found in this poem, particularly. He has discussed the idea that love is powerful and when someone loves you, it should be returned because it is a very rare and precious thing. At the same time, hate it does nothing but steal from the person who does the hating. In other words, as he says “For hate is/the burden/to exhaust/the/stars in you”, he has created the idea that love gives power where hate steals it back.
The symbols that Blake is created are powerful in that they are simple, yet point to very distinct human experiences. He has created a book that shares these feelings and the way that he experiences frustration with others who can learn to find acceptance by opening themselves to ending the frustration. He acknowledges frustration through his symbolism and then opens up about how to work towards acceptance. Symbolism may not necessarily always be direct. Although the dedication has a very direct use of symbolism, many of his poems use ideas in human experience as a way of identifying other concepts that are overriding the words.
Blake, Robert M. Black Butterfly. New York: Vintage Wild, 2015. Print.
In the Dedication
Love is a violent
flower blooming in
the middle of my bones
The Inner Truth
The funny thing
we always tell
there is so
and give this
Love & Stars
what loves you,
what hates you.
For hate is
stars in you.