Goldfish in a Pickle Jar

The many reasons Charles Simic was chosen as the country's poet laureate.

"It was such a sad story, it made everyone laugh" - it is a signature Simic sentence that neatly illustrates what makes his Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry so stimulating, evidenced again in his latest book, "Master of Disguises" [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22]. The book's poems are laced with such opposing images, tied together, juxtaposed. They unsettle, even shock.

Before long you've traveled into his surreal world, wrapping your mind around "a country store full of gravediggers' children buying candy," "wild flowers along the road to hell" and "streams of blood in the gutter waiting for sunrise."

Beyond the imagery is the expertly crafted story. In just a few lines (most of the poems are just a half-page long), Simic makes you feel that you're halfway through a novel that you don't want to put down.

"It's quarter to two/On this street of darkened pawnshops/Welfare hotels and tenements/One or two ragged puppets are awake."

Ragged puppets? Tell me more.

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