All in all this was a good collection, but I must admit to disappointment because I didn’t find it as rich or interesting as Tadic's previous collection in English, Night Mail: Selected Poems, also translated by Simic.
In the introduction, Simic says that Tadic’s poems have become “less verbally intricate and more direct and plain-spoken” over the years. In some poets such distillation brings power, but I felt the poems here were duller, and difficult to warm up to. Tadic's topics and themes haven’t changed significantly, but I found the earlier poems stranger and more vivid.
I guess it just boils down to the fact that I thought Night Mail was a masterpiece. The poem series with “The Maker of Faces” was brilliant and menacing. The “fiery hen” that appeared in a number of poems was wild and dangerous. The “indestructible lamb” was fascinating. IS fascinating. I have pretty much convinced myself that it was Tadic’s “Antipsalm” that inspired Olena Kalytiak Davis’s “Six Apologies, Lord,” and set the standard for other poems in the self-hating, self-flagellating vein. Here’ s the beginning of “Antipsalm:”
"Disfigure me, Lord. Take pity on me.
Cover me with bumps. Reward me with boils.
In the source of tears open a spring of pus mixed with blood.
Twist my mouth upsidedown. Give me a hump." (...)
(Partly because of her wonderful ending, Davis’s poem may have been superior, but I don’t have time to go into that now.)
I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading “Dark Things.” There are plenty of good poems in it. I particularly liked “Whisk Broom 50,” which begins
Whisk broom of fifty pills
befuddled my monstrous brain
now in a padded room
I’m lying down
white crows come offering me
blank years of a blank life
There are also some ‘dream’ poems, the best of which is “Armful of Twigs, Dream.” In it the speaker is carrying twigs to a funeral pyre. It’s a violent vision of fire and a crowd and ends -
"(This dream, I am not
bound to forget.)
Don’t sway like that, O my curtain."
Yet, another dream poem leaves me completely flat: "Book, Dream." At four lines, it’s the shortest poem in the book, and reads –
"On a low chair, the book
opened by itself.
A gust of air blew –
it was the Lord’s breath."
Unfortunately there were a number of poems in the book that left me flat.
I’m sure if I’d never read "Night Mail" I would have come away more impressed. As it is, if you’re interested in Novica Tadic, there’s no doubt "Night Mail" is the place to start.