Dime-Store Alchemy by Charles Simic

The task Charles Simic undertakes in this diverse, essentially unclassifiable book is one of illumination and tribute. Rather than constrict his response to Joseph Cornell's surreal art to the objective terms of critical analysis, Simic sets out to recreate in a different medium - the written language of the poet - the experience of viewing Cornell's enigmatic constructions of boxes, collages, and film. Partly an appreciation of Cornell's work, partly an appropriation of his method, Dime-Store Alchemy interweaves elements of art history, poetry, and biography in a series of short texts that create a kind of poetic equivalent to Cornell's visual art. The artist's premise that the world is beautiful, but not sayable becomes Simic's as well. From incisive meditations on Cornell's methods and aims, Simic moves to create his own assemblages in the spirit of Cornell and the poets he admired - Dickinson, Whitman, and Poe. The resulting prose poems are studded with the same unlikely combinations of found objects and dime-store jewels that inhabit Cornell's boxes. Simic's evocative images, like Cornell's, defy rational explanation but instead invite the viewer to participate in the imaginative life of the art, "to make up stories about what one sees." This highly personal consideration of one of the most important visual artists of the twentieth century conveys the same spirit of chance, the same playful celebration of the miraculous properties of the commonplace, that distinguishes the work of an artist who is, as Simic writes, "in the end unknowable."

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