Posts Tagged ‘libraries’

poem is in the Angel book


Like so . . .


In the Library

by Charles Simic


for Octavio


There’s a book called

“A Dictionary of Angels.”

No one has opened it in fifty years,

I know, because when I did,

The covers creaked, the pages

Crumbled. There I discovered


The angels were once as plentiful

As species of flies.

The sky at dusk

Used to be thick with them.

You had to wave both arms

Just to keep them away.


Now the sun is shining

Through the tall windows.

The library is a quiet place.

Angels and gods huddled

In dark unopened books.

The great secret lies

On some shelf Miss Jones

Passes every day on her rounds.


She’s very tall, so she keeps

Her head tipped as if listening.

The books are whispering.

I hear nothing, but she does.



As ancient and creaky as the book in Charles Simic’s “In the Library” is his portrayal of the librarian Miss Jones. A spinster, too tall, cocking her head to hear books speak to her in her loneliness—I’m hearing strains of “Eleanor Rigby”—a woman not seen in libraries since the fifties and perhaps not even then.


Still, I love this poem, the whimsy, the humor. I love how Simic uses straightforward language to create his fanciful worlds—the medieval one where people have to swat away angels as species of flies, and the modern one where forgotten angels and gods huddle together inside a book, waiting to be set free.


The unopened book full of angels makes me think of the shelves and shelves of poetry books at my library, most untouched for years. And all those novels, especially these days when words on a page can’t compete with their cousins on screens. Where oh where are the legions of Miss Joneses, turning to the written word, looking for what’s beautiful, magical, mysterious?


Here’s a bio from an earlier post:

Charles Simic was born in Yugoslavia in 1938.  During WWII, his family was evacuated from place to place to escape bombing.  “My travel agents were Hitler and Stalin,” he jokes.  His father left to find work in Italy and was imprisoned instead.  After the war Simic and his mother and brother were briefly imprisoned by Communist authorities.  Eventually they were able to leave Yugoslavia for Paris, then New York, where the family was reunited with Simic’s father after ten years.  Simic took night classes in Chicago and then moved to New York where he worked a number of odd jobs.  He served in the army in the early sixties, and arriving back in New York, earned a degree from New York University.


Simic has taught at the University of New Hampshire for nearly forty years.  He was named the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2007, won the Pulitzer Prize, and received a MacArthur Genius Grant, and remains one of our most popular American poets with readers and critics alike.  Quite a feat for a poet who didn’t speak English till he was fifteen.


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All poems are inside the dictionary under the clock

All poems are inside the dictionary under the clock


Seven people–or rather, six people and one group–sent me poems for the “Ultraconserved Words” challenge.  The prompt was to write a poem using ten or more words from a group of twenty-three words that some linguists believe have been in use since the end of the last ice age. Congratulations to all the participants!  Five of the seven poems centered around a mother figure, but besides that, the poems were different in form, tone and–even with a common core of words–diction. All of the words– I, we, thou, ye, who, this, that, what, mother, male/man, not, worm, bark, hand, ashes, fire, to give, to pull, to spit, to flow, and to hear–found a place in at least one of the poems, including ye and thou, not easy words to find use for in 2013.


Where to put poems based on words with ancient etymologies?   A dictionary, of course, a big fat dictionary housing all our English words and their origins. These days a dictionary is something of a fossil in itself.  So few people use them that putting the poems in the pages of one at my local library felt as if I were burying the poems to be resurrected by archeologists of the future.  Who knows when the physical version of these poems will resurface?


I put each poem next to a dictionary entry that was a key word in the poem.


The first poem is a collaboration from a group of nine women who call themselves the “Literary Ladies” of the Providence Aged Care Facility in Victoria, Australia.  The Literary Ladies is the only nursing home poetry group in the University of the 3rd Age, a worldwide ongoing learning program for seniors and the disabled.  The poets, all in their 80s and late 90s, meet twice a week to write poetry.  Facilitator Robyn Poul transcribes their lines on a white board and takes the poems home to type up.


Here, in their own words, is how they approached this poetry challenge:  “We thought that the words were so old that we had to give them some religious or spiritual significance. So we wrote a religious chant or prayer. The slow rhythm and repetition creates a picture of a ceremonial pace – a walk with an ordered crowd chanting together.” I put “The Mother” near “bark,” because I love the lines, I am Bark/to protect/to warm.


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It’s a marvel of the modern age, isn’t it, that these wonderful women can at the same time connect with women from eons past and with present-day readers the world over.  As Robyn the facilitator would say, cheerio, Literary Ladies!


Ginny Love Connors’ poem “Impossible” is above the word “worm.”  A worm, like the poet, like the “old black art,” can transform dirt/pain into something richer, something that allows growth.

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Of course I put “Ashes to Ashes” by Suzanne Fontaine under “ash.”

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Bark hard  and veins like worms are such strong descriptions of the old woman’s hands and unfortunately an apt one of my own that I think I’ll just give up on hand creams altogether.


Kathleen Haney’s “His Heart” is right below “fire.” This poem sounds like a song to me, a song Lucinda Williams might sing in a voice full of experience, heartache and tenderness.

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Trish Rawlings’ untitled poem, which I put above “who,”  is composed almost entirely of words from the list.  Quite a feat!  It puts me in mind of a spell or incantation.  Trish, please explain the sound of the worm flowing in the bark.  It gives me the heebie-jeebies.

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E. Muir says that writing her poem “Baby Turns Five” helped clear her mind during a busy time with her young children.  Her poem sits above “mother.”

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Finally, Teri Ledbetter’s poem.  The situation is evocative and mysterious–is the man begging on the street corner or is he someone in her inner circle?  At any rate, he’s an interloper, not welcome in the child’s world.

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Thanks to all who entered!

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