Dime-Store Alchemy (Hardcover)

The Art of Joseph Cornell

By Charles Simic

NYRB Classics, 9781590171707, 116pp.

Publication Date: September 12, 2006

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (9/20/2011)

List Price: 18.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


In Dime-Store Alchemy, poet Charles Simic refects on the life and work of Joseph Cornell, the maverick surrealist who is one of America’s great artists. Simic’s spare prose is as enchanting and luminous as the mysterious boxes of found objects for which Cornell is justly renowned.

In a work that is in various degrees biography, criticism, and sheer poetry, Simic tells the story of Cornell’s life and illuminates the hermetic mysteries of his extraordinary boxes–objects in which private obsessions were alchemically transformed into enduring works of art. Simic sees Cornell’s work as exemplifying a distinctively American aesthetic, open to the world, improvisatory, at once homemade and universal, modest and teasing and profound. Full of unexpected riches, Dime-Store Alchemy is both an entrancing meditation on the nature of art and a perfect introduction to a major American artist by one of his peers–a book that can be perused at length or dipped into at leisure again and again.


About the Author

CHARLES SIMIC is a poet, essayist, and translator. He teaches American literature and creative writing at the University of New Hampshire. He has published five books of essays, a memoir, numerous translations, and sixteen collections of poetry, the most recent of which is "The Voice at 3:00 AM." Among the many literary awards Simic has received are a MacArthur Fellowship and the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in New Hampshire.

Praise For Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell

"Dime-Store Alchemy . . . is the most sustained literary response this
far to Cornell's boxes, montages, and films . . . Incisive,
freewheeling, dramatic?a mixture of evocation and observation, as lucid
and shadowy as the imagination it celebrates . . . Dime-Store Alchemy
is a meeting of kindred spirits that is itself a work of art." --Edward
Hirsch, The New Yorker

"Dime-Store Alchemy is a collection of crystalline paragraphs, of
irreplaceable miniatures, it is an act of homage, an ideal commentary,
suffused with the peculiar charm, the oneiric energy of its subject, it
is pure illumination, Simic at his very best." --Mark Strand

"A beautiful book that evokes Cornell's artistic spirit." --Harper's

"It's hard to do justice to the charm and power of Joseph Cornell's
boxes. His reliance on collage, indifference to technical display, and
Surrealist mining of private obsession make him very much a modern
artist, yet his work also brings to mind bourgeois parlors, the tidy
vitrines of collectors, and the odds and ends children carry around for
comfort and distraction. It is an art at once hermetic and
matter-of-fact, sophisticated and simple. Appropriately, this study is
neither a straightforward critical account of Cornell's art nor a
merely literary embellishment of it, but rather a parallel text:
written by Simic ( Hotel Insomnia ), one of our best poets, it includes
his own poems and reminiscences, as well as quotations from a variety
of other writers. Simic mingles biography and critical discussion with
selections of writings from the artist's notebooks. The book emerges as
a piece of writing constructed along the enigmatic lines of Cornell's
art. And that art, as Simic sees it, gathers from the scattered pieces
of the American past a new, redeeming reality; at heart, this art is a
religious practice. Only seemingly random, Simic's approach develops
both the plain detail of Cornell's life and illuminates the nature of
his work." --Publisher's Weekly