Cover image for Jackstraws : poems
Jackstraws : poems
Simic, Charles, 1938-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt Brace, [1999]

Physical Description:
ix, 85 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3569.I4725 J33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Charles Simic's new collection of sixty-two poems continues to startle. Whether he is writing of wild flowers "Drunk with kissing/The red hot summer breezes"; or of God, that "Boss of all bosses of the universe/Mr. Know-it-all, wheeler-dealer, wire puller"; or of rain drops "Which take turns listening/To each other fall intermittently/As they go around collecting memories," Simic creates powerful, fresh images that are at once slangy and lyrical, irreverent and God-fearing, foreign and all-American, humorous and full of heartache.

Author Notes

Charles Simic was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, immigrated with his family to Chicago in 1954, and was educated at New York University. Although his native language was Serbian, he began writing in English. Some of his work reflects the years he served in the U.S. Army (1961--63). He has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, a Guggenheim Foundation grant, and a National Endowment for the Arts award. "My poetry always had surrealistic tendencies, which were discouraged a great deal in the '50's," the poet said, but such tendencies were applauded in the 1970s and his reputation consequently flourished. His poems are about obsessive fears and often depict a world that resembles the animism of primitive thought. His work has affinities with that of Mark Strand and has in its turn produced several imitators.

Simic was appointed the fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 2007

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Simic's sharp and unsparing vision is stereoscopic, uniting, as it so slyly and unnervingly does, haunting memories of and fresh concern about the horrors of Eastern Europe with affectionately sardonic impressions of his second home, America. Simic's tidily constructed but emotionally stormy poems have the tension and smoky aura of the scene of a crime, be it one of the state, or of private passion gone wrong. His stoic poetic persona seems to be a survivor of interrogation and torture, solitary confinement and exile, and his stark world reflects his wounds. He is strangely sensitive to the dramas of insects. Shadows slash ceilings and windows; a sunset bloodies the observer's face, the branches of a "ragged little tree" strike out at his head as if, he thinks, "to knock some sense into me." The main street of a small town is festooned with gone-out-of-business signs, while a towered prison hulks in the distance. Like the game of jackstraws, life is precarious, random, and vulnerable to the assaults of ham-fisted bullies, be they mortals or God. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0151004226Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

By now, Simic's matter-of-fact tossings off of the gothic, the banal and the absurd are so familiar that it's hard to know when he's putting us on. In this 13th collection, less allusive and lighter in tone than the Pulitzer Prize-winning Walking the Black Cat, "store windows with out-of-business signs" replace "The famous no-shows,/ Truth, Justice, and so forthÄ" as the poet leads us through blackly comic scenes from post-industrial America's weedy sidewalks and abandoned lots. The "big topics" often get upstaged by images of small annoyancesÄflies, spiders and insects win a surprising amount of attention by climbing religious statues, crawling under the napkins of drag queens eating pot roast and provoking mock admiration: "Teeny dadaists on the march,/ You're sly and most witty/ As you disrupt my rare moments/ Of calm." But most of Simic's short, anecdotal lyrics coax depth by skewing ordinary activities, as when depicting lovers "running drenched/ Past the state prison with its armed guards/ Silhouetted in their towers against the sky," or an "evening sunlight" that would corner the speaker, "to tell me so much,/ To tell me absolutely nothing." The long sequences that end the collectionÄ"The Toy, "Talking to the Ceiling" and "Mystic Life"Äare among his best: promisingly experimental in structure, crammed with bits of conversation, off-center quips, invocations and definitions ("Memory, all-night's bedside tatto artist") that rise above the quotidian world they alternately parody and celebrate. Simic's sly and precocious speakers are at their best when showing us "how quiet the world gets,/ When you roll your eyes back and look." (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

With James Tate, Mark Strand, and others, Simic led American poetry's turn toward surrealism in the late 1960s, establishing an eerily disjunctive but imagistically arresting style. Today the Yugoslavia-born poet and 1989 Pulitzer Prize winner continues resolutely along the same antilogical, irreverent path, but that path is now deeply worn, and surprise is less easily evoked. While Simic sets up unpredictable scenes that blend the comic with the ominous ("A pastry chef carrying a lit birthday cake/ Found himself in the blinding snowstorm"), he also falls prey to an awkwardness of phrasing that can read like an unsteady translation ("The smoke that was like the skirts/ Slit on the side to give the legs freedom/ To move while dancing the tango/ Past ballroom mirrors on page 1944"). Some endings seem tacked on or settled for, as if the poet had lost interest in the dream. Like any dream journal, Jackstraws is a mixture of hits and misses, not without invention but unlikely to add substantially to Simic's established reputation.ÄFred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Excerpt The Voice at 3 A.M. Who put canned laughter Into my crucifixion scene? Speck-Sized Screaming Head Hoping to make yourself heard, Mr. No-See? Busting your balls For one long, bloodcurdling scream, Out of the dustheap At my feet. Fat chance. Someone's just putting A quarter in the jukebox, Someone else is starting the pink Cadillac convertible On the street, And I'm lifting and cocking the broom In your direction. The Soul Has Many Brides In India I was greatly taken up With a fly in a temple Which gave me the distinct feeling, It was possible, just possible, That we had met before. Was it in Mexico City? Climbing the blood-spotted, yellow legs Of the crucified Christ While his eyes grew larger and larger. "May God seat you on the highest throne Of his invisible Kingdom," A blind beggar said to me in English. He knew what I saw. At the saloon where Pancho Villa Fired his revolvers at the ceiling, On the bare ass of a naked nymph Stepping out of a lake in a painting, And now shamelessly crawling up One of Buddha's nostrils, Whose smile got even more secretive, Even more squint-eyed. The History of Costumes Top hats and tight-fit monkey suits, You pointed to the map of the world With your silver-tipped walking sticks And fixed my fate forever on a dot. Already on the very next page, I saw my white sailor suit parachuting Among bricks and puffs of smoke In a building split in half by a bomb, The smoke that was like the skirts Slit on the side to give the legs the freedom To move while dancing the tango Past ballroom mirrors on page 1944. Medieval Miniature Souls burning in hell, How exceedingly modest your eternal torments Appear to me in comparison To that of a firebombed city. A couple of awkward-looking devils Are sticking long pitchforks in you. Another is down on his knees Reviving the fire by blowing on it. It's enough to make the sinners go ha-ha, When in two whoops and a holler A whole neighborhood can be incinerated Leaving nothing much to see. A lone dog roaming in the rubble Can break the meanest heart. By the looks of it he's young And curious. We leave him thus, Earnestly digging with his paws. The woman licked by flames In the meantime has divine breasts. The unknown artist made sure of that. Private Eye To find clues where there are none, That's my job now, I said to the Dictionary on my desk. The world beyond My window has grown illegible, And so has the clock on the wall. I may strike a match to orient myself. In the meantime, there's the heart- Stopping hush as the building Empties, the elevators stop running, The grains of dust stay put. Hours of quiescent sleuthing Before the Madonna with the mop Shuffles down the long corridor Trying doorknobs, turning mine. That's just little old me sweating In the customer's chair, I'll say. Keep your nose out of it. I'm not closing up till he breaks. The Common Insects of North America Bumble Bee, Soldier Bug, Mormon Cricket, They are all out there somewhere In the audience, as it were, Behind Joe's Garage, in the tall weeds By the snake handler's church, On the fringe of a beaver pond. Painted Beauty is barefoot and recumbent. Clouded Wood Nymph has been sight-seeing And has caught a shiver. Book Louse Is reading about the battle of Gettysburg. Chinese Mantid is praying again. Now that Rat Flea is feeling amorous, Hermit Beetle has elected to play Sotto voce in the woods. Widow Dragonfly Doing leg splits could use a pair of Eentsy-weentsy prescription shades Before she comes to a dreadful end. De Occulta Philosophia Evening sunlight, Your humble servant Seeks initiation Into your occult ways. Out of the late-summer sky, Its deepening quiet, You brought me a summons, A small share in some large And obscure knowledge. Tell me something of your study Of lengthening shadows, The blazing windowpanes Where the soul is turned into light-- Or don't just now. You have the air of someone Who prefers to dwell in solitude, The one who enters, with gravity Of mien and imposing severity, A room suddenly rich in enigmas. Oh supreme unknowable, The seemingly inviolable reserve Of your stratagems Makes me quake at the thought Of you finding me thus Seated in a shadowy back room At the edge of a village Bloodied by the setting sun, To tell me so much, To tell me absolutely nothing.