My Noiseless Entourage
Charles Simic
Harcourt, $22 (cloth)

“They are wagering over me, placing bets,” Charles Simic writes in “The Gamblers Upstairs.” “The high rollers and their sidekicks / On their knees / Little Joe from Baltimore, /Ada from Decatur.” A playful yet urgent sense of risk makes this poem one of the most memorable in My Noiseless Entourage, Simic’s 16th book of poems. Unfortunately, most of the poems here are less risky, more akin to, say, poker night with friends than the World Series of Poker—a diverting way to pass the time, but there would be more exhilaration if there were more at stake. Simic revisits territory here that felt stranger and more satisfying in previous books. Early on he seems to announce that these pieces will contain his usual features, including “Horror movies, /All-night cafeterias, / Dark barrooms /And poolhalls / On rain-slicked streets.” When he writes, “I’m still living at all the old addresses, / Wearing dark glasses even indoors / On the hush-hush sharing my bed / With phantoms / Visiting the kitchen / After midnight to check the faucet,” this too reads like an admission that we’re treading well-worn ground. Despite its title, this book is noisier than most of Simic’s collections, with the best poems drowned out by the static of weaker ones. Often the book puts one in mind of a Tom Waits album, full of fanciful stories and sketchy minor characters, as in “Cockroach Salon.” Yet even here, the cockroaches do exactly what you would expect Simic’s or any cartoon roaches to do: “Talking of greasy spoons, / Late nights in back alleys, / Rats leaping out of trashcans.” In the book’s final section, the poems tighten their focus, all seeming to ponder the existence of God, and here the work gets notably fresher. Simic ends with pigeons waiting “For the one who comes to her window / To feed them angel cake, / All but invisible, but for her slender arm.” As fans, we too are left waiting, hoping that Simic’s next book will be even finer.