Goran Simić. Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman. Emeryville, Ontario: Biblioasis, 2011.
~ reviewed by Mark Lavorato
Goran Simić has already made a name for himself as an accomplished poet, writing for years in his native Bosnian, with his work translated into nine other languages. Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman, however, gathers work written in English, the language of his adopted city, Toronto, where he settled with his family in 1995 with the help of a Freedom to Write Award from PEN. Simić recently won the Canadian Authors Association’s Award for Poetry, which indicates the success of his English-language work. Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman is a beautiful book that consistently rewards the reader with touching, if disconcerting, vignettes. Going through the collection from cover to cover is much like walking along in conversation with someone who’s just been shot. The themes oscillate from trauma, to rage against the injustices of war, to deeply personal reminiscences, to—almost naturally—forays into surrealism that ring of delirium and instability. Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman is disorienting, charged, and constantly emotional. The collection isn’t without its problems, however: there are hackneyed phrases and trite word choices peppered throughout, much more like the work of a newcomer than a veteran, as well as some ill-advised experiments with quatrains (“When I need the ravine church to inject my pain and fears, / I kneel down faster than I walk back up the hill. / Like a donkey in a horse race I run backward, hiding black tears / from the victor whose laurel crown stinks of dill” [“No Time to Waste”]). But the few gaffes are more than forgivable, particularly when, turning the page, the reader is met with expert metaphor, stunning allegory, and a barrage of images that linger long after the book is put down. In “The Immigrant Talks to the Slot Machine,” for instance, Simic moves from a conventional expression of love, finding hope in the beloved’s “golden eyes,” but leaps out of himself like “a stowaway in the womb of a sinking boat,” that doomed, sinking womb offering shelter and undermining it. Even some of the titles are evocative by themselves: “Watching a Woman Cry in my Favourite Bar,” “The Hotel at the Crossroads Watches the Street Musician,” and “The Poet and His Brother the General on a Hill After the War.” It should also be added that the book, physically, is a thing of beauty. The overall impression is one of emotional depth and complexity, often conveyed with sound craft and effective devices. Like his native Bosnian work, Simić’s English-language contribution is sure to evolve in promising directions. And these blood-spattered steps along the road in an adopted tongue are certainly worth listening to.
Mark Lavorato is the author of three novels; his latest, Burning-In, is forthcoming with Anansi. His debut collection, Wayworn Wooden Floors, was published by the Porcupine’s Quill in 2012.