Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
Night Picnic: Poems is a fine 2001 collection by Charles Simic, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Yugoslavian-born poet best known for surreal, often dark work. The poems presented here are clearly the work of an older poet, confident in himself and in his work. The poems' narratives are stronger than those of Jackstraws, his deeply imagistic 1999 collection, and more relaxed than the tight, spare pieces prevalent earlier in his career, as represented in 1982's Austerities.
Much of Simic's poetry in the past has sprung from the horrors of World War II and its aftermath in Eastern Europe. Along with Czeslaw Milosz, his somewhat older Polish contemporary, Simic has done much to bring the rhythms and life the "Other Europe" to the English-speaking world. Night Picnic is clearly Simic's work, from the "butchery of the innocent" to the confused wanderers of nameless cities:
… they do not see anyone,
Nor do they catch sight of themselves
In dusty store windows
Drifting in the company of white clouds.
Many of the poems here are playful, and that playfulness often appears in the juxtaposition of apparently unrelated objects: "[t]wo pebbles from the grave of a rock star, / [a] small, grinning windup monkey." Here more than ever before, the poet takes an earthy delight in the rituals of human love and lust. While still recognizably the work of Charles Simic, many of these poems read like the work of a man whose burdens have been, if not lifted, then at least lightened.