Monday, July 23, 2012

Prairie Fire Review of of Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman

Vol. 11, No. 3 (2011)

Reviewed by Anna Mioduchowska

I was a boy just yesterday.

I am the ghost of the house today,

growing up languid as a hothouse flower,

or a lizard daydreaming of becoming a dragon. (20)

 Poet does not appear on Immigration Canada’s list of preferred occupations, and not surprisingly,

poets who have achieved some degree of success in their homelands rarely choose to emigrate in

times of peace. We have the civil war in former Yugoslavia, and PEN Canada, to thank for Goran

Simic's presence among us.

Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman
launched during Simić’s appointment as Edmonton’s Poet in-

Exile, is his fifth collection of poetry since his arrival in 1996 from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and his

first written in English. In the Acknowledgements he calls it “my private poetry donation to the

English language.” It is a worthy donation, as well as a moving testament to a poet’s struggle to cross

from the language that gave his poetry birth into a language that has become its proverbial shelter in

the storm.

Struggle is the overall theme of the collection: to be reborn into his new language, that “wild

sea / which attacks my weak tongue” (33), into peace, where he wants to become “an ordinary man”

(35), struggle to remember even as he longs to forget the horrors of the siege of Sarajevo, to love. In

case this sounds heavy duty, the whimsical, finely wrought first poem in the book alerts us to the fact

that we are in the hands of an accomplished poet, which will make the risk of turning the next page

Simic writes with the urgency of someone who has packed a lot of living into the last two

decades and needs to transpose it with the help of imagination or suffocate. Rather than a spiritual or

philosophical enquiry into the effects of violence, his poetry is a visceral tug-of-war with its twisted

offspring. Memories of the siege of Sarajevo, 1992–96, haunt his sleep, so that nightmares weave their

way through the entire collection. Civil war is compared to a mental institution, where

On the left lie those who pretend to be ill

to avoid execution.

On the right lie those who pretend to be ill

because they were chosen to execute those

on the left.

But after midnight

all the patients

play chess so nobody wins

and punish those who feel better

with a double dose of pills.

Outside of the hospital it’s worse. (22)

There is also the familiar guilt of the survivor, guilt of the deserter, as emigrants are often viewed

in times of strife by those who stay behind, guilt of wanting to be washed clean of the past. Fable,

allegory, surrealistic images and scenarios help to bring into relief the experience of being a stranger

(“The Immigrant Talks to the Slot Machine,” “What I Was Told,” “My Accent”). As a displaced

person, an exile, he longs to become visible. “Please turn off that TV and listen to my silence /

howling atop the shining antenna”(30) he begs in “Facing the TV".

Simić is at his best when he controls – but does not subdue – feverish emotion and imagination

are controlled with his craft. With a few choice surrealistic images he can place the reader in an

unfamiliar landscape with senses wide awake. Some of my favourite poems are the poignant “Spring

is Coming,” in which hope crawls out of the ruins, shell-shocked, unprepared for peace; the

allegorical “Where Is My Brick” and “Confession of the Pimp’s Cat.” “Candle of the North,” even

with its few awkward moments such as “decomposed documents of long-dead blood donors” (46)

scattered on the beach, succeeded in moving me to tears.

Not all the poems are equally successful. I was quite baffled by the poet’s decision to include

rhyming quatrains in the book, for example. Those end-of-line rhymes disturb for all the wrong

reasons. My other complaint is the occasional lapse into lugubrious excess. “Making Love” positively

writhes with twisted erotic images of “an octopus grip[ping] its victim,” screaming rooster, screaming

swan, priest’s “underwear / on the door of the orphanage” (24), which belong in the poetry of a much

younger poet. “If I Told You” offers another example

The bloopers are minor, however, when weighed against the rest. Canada’s poetic community

has gained an interesting voice in Simic
and his determination and energy to continue writing in

spite of the many barriers in his way can only be emulated. A word of congratulations to the

publisher, on the elegant cover and general appearance of the book. Buy it – you won’t be


Anna Mioduchowska’s poems, translations, stories, essays and book reviews have appeared in

anthologies, journals, newspapers and on buses, and have aired on the radio.
In-Between Season, a

poetry collection, was published by Rowan Books.
Eyeing the Magpie, a collection of poetry and art,

was published in collaboration with four fellow poets.

Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman at McNally Robinson Booksellers (click on the line below):

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