John Simon Articles

Words in the Street

In prose and verse, the speaking voice of Charles Simic.
Oct 12, 2015

Charles Simic and I both grew up in Belgrade—then Yugoslavia and now Serbia—he later and harder than I. Immigrating, he has become a notable American poet and prosaist, winning numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Fellowship. He has published 20 volumes of poetry and several of prose, as well as verse translations from diverse Yugoslav dialects. Until recently, he taught at the University of New Hampshire. He appears now with The Lunatic, a volume of verse, and The Life of Images, selected prose.

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Long Night’s Journey

The biographical drama of Eugene O’Neill.
May 04, 2015

Tolstoy’s famous dictum—the second half of it, anyway—that “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” certainly applies to the O’Neills, in spades. Though our concern here is with the playwright Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953), the miseries of his father, James, his mother, Mary (known as Ella), and his sibling, Jamie, were spectacular enough in their respective ways, as Eugene’s supreme autobiographical masterpiece, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, makes abundantly clear.

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Vanna-ty Fare

The confessions of a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ fan.
May 12, 2014

Let me say, remotely alluding to Robert Frost, that something there is that loves a puzzle. Any kind of puzzle, as long as it makes the solver feel good. His conquest cannot compare with Genghis Khan’s or Napoleon’s, but conquest there is, and the glow of satisfaction.

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Sincerely, Lenny

The correspondence of Manhattan’s Maestro.
Jan 13, 2014

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was a man of multiple talents: He was a composer of classical music as well as of musical comedies (On the Town, Wonderful Town, Candide, West Side Story) and a number of ballets for choreographer Jerome Robbins.

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Nightingale’s Song

The collected versatility of a ‘really good’ critic.
May 20, 2013

Drama critics come in all kinds, besides, of course, good and bad. There are those who regurgitate the plot and those who gallop off on hobby-horses. There are those with sound ideas but no style; those with impressive styles but no taste. Some tergiversate, even without a Janus face; others ride one point into the ground. Then there are the really good ones, like Britain’s Benedict Nightingale, whose song should be heard far beyond Berkeley Square.

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Let’s Misbehave

Sometimes it’s a Good Thing to be bad.
Feb 20, 2012

Let’s start with a kind of syllogism. Philosophers write books of philosophy. Emrys Westacott teaches philosophy at Alfred University. Therefore his book, The Virtues of Our Vices, is a book of philosophy. And so, worse luck, it is.

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Balkan Dreams

A debut novel hovers among shadows and action.
Jun 27, 2011

The Tiger’s Wife
A Novel
by Téa Obreht
Random House, 352 pp., $25

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Cavafy at Random

The remains (in prose) of the great Greek poet.
Mar 21, 2011

Selected Prose Works

by Constantine Cavafy

translated and annotated by Peter Jeffreys

Michigan, 184 pp., $24.95

Constantine Cavafy is a major figure in modern poetry, repeatedly translated into English. His prose, however, remained uncollected and unpublished in English​—​until now.

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Craftsman Remembered

Wilfrid Sheed, 1930-2011.
Feb 14, 2011


Wilfrid Sheed, who died on January 19, was a great critic, splendid essayist, and vastly entertaining novelist. Also a biographer (Clare Boothe Luce), autobiographer, popular music historian, and probably something else I am forgetting. “A utility man of letters,” he called himself—and I would emphasize the “man of letters” part, a precious rarity nowadays. And one more thing: a great guy.

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