Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell” as Want to Read:
Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell

4.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  467 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
Now in Paperback

InDime-Store Alchemy, poet Charles Simic reflects 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.
Paperback, 88 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by NYRB Classics (first published January 1st 1992)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Dime-Store Alchemy, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Dime-Store Alchemy

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 922)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
May 24, 2015 Miriam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, art
This book is excellent. It has writing about Cornell and from Cornell and inspired by Cornell. It has prose poems and references to poets and art and artists writing about art.

What it doesn't have, unfortunately, is the art itself. There are few poorly-reproduced black-and-white photos of Cornell's works, lumped together in the middle, but that's it. And Simic rarely elucidates which (if any) particular piece he is thinking of. If you, reader, are familiar with Cornell's corpus you may sometime
Jan 30, 2016 Monica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Monica by: Ruth
Shelves: special-books, poetry, art
OK. Now that I've read Dime-Store Alchemy, I'll write something.

The goodreads forum has helped me reconnect with my literary life. I've sorted through half my library and collected several dozen to donate (not enough!), but all the inspiration around here made me succumb to a latent book-buying "sickness" and I placed a few on-line orders. "Asylum Dance" had been an elusive find, so when it turned up, I placed an order and added a few more titles to get "free" shipping. When the package arrive
Dime-Store Alchemy perfectly pairs the mundane and the magical to capture Joseph Cornell's distinctive and various constructions, in boxes and otherwise. After looking at his boxes for decades, I now know their maker had the same offbeat, startling quality. The poet Charles Simic has produced a short, idiosyncratic, meditative discourse, with illustrations, on Cornell, his life on Utopia Boulevard, and his compelling enigmatic boxes.

A poet writing about an artist produces a third work of art, a
Catherine Corman
At some point my need for a solution was replaced by the poetry of my continuous failure.

-Charles Simic, "Chessboard of the Soul"
Feb 19, 2013 Trina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This little book is a treasure. Being a poetry ignoramus, I had no idea how prolific and inventive a writer Charles Simic is. I read this after I had finished Utopia Parkway, a biography of Joseph Cornell. It is a beautiful coda to that book, adding breadth and a poetic appreciation, not only to Cornell's life and work, but to art's place in life.
May 03, 2016 Melody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, art
I loved learning about Joseph Cornell's surreal art. Things that are not sayable. This poetry celebrates the beautiful world that just can't be put into words - but Simic is going to use words anyway. I need to read more about Cornell.
Jul 31, 2015 Ruth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joseph Cornell is one of my favourite artists and I love poetry, so I pounced on this book when I saw it in Foyles. It combines some biographical information with snippets from Cornell's journal and poetic musings on his shadow boxes. It contextualises him within Surrealism and draws out the poetic nature of Cornell's work. I wish that this had been a bigger book; I wanted more beautiful illustrations, more poetry inspired by his boxes, more extracts from Cornell's writing. I wanted to know more ...more
Robert Flannery
Jan 22, 2016 Robert Flannery rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simic alternated between immersion in the art of Cornell with fascinating stories from Cornell's life. The structure is essentially prose poems one or two pages long. Really enjoyable page by page.

The Magic Study of Happiness

In the smallest theater in the world the bread crumbs speak. It's a mystery play on the subject of a lost paradise. Once there was a kitchen with a table on which a few crumbs were left. Through the window you could see your young mother by the fence talking to a n
Jun 09, 2015 A rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
I always want to like Simic more than I do.
Erin Malone
Nov 13, 2010 Erin Malone rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simic + Cornell = What's Not to Love??

Jul 27, 2016 Patty rated it liked it
"You don't make art, you find it. You accept everything as its material… The collage technique, that art of reassembling fragments of preexisting images in such a way as to form a new image, is the most important innovation in the art of this century… The commonplace is miraculous if rightly seen, if recognized." (p 19, 'We Comprehend by Awe')

"Modernism in art and literature gave unparalleled freedom to the individual to invent his or her own world from the parts of the existing one. It abolishe
Mar 10, 2012 Rick rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Simic, a poet, wrote this thoughtful appreciation of Cornell’s life work in 1992, some twenty years after Cornell passed away in a house in Bayside, Queens, that the artist had longed lived in on Utopia Parkway with his mother and brother. Cornell built boxes that contained found objects arranged for display within the boxes. Ignorant of Cornell’s life, work and residence, I ran by his house pretty regularly in the last two years of his life, the late teens of mine, heading up Utopia toward the ...more
Nhan Heaux
Feb 28, 2016 Nhan Heaux rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful poetry and prose cocktail to be paired with Cornell's work. Like others I wished an edition of this work had been published with photographs of each work it was inspired by. Simic not only pulls out the poetic nature of selected pieces, but the meaning of his body of work as a whole. "The world is beautiful, but not sayable. That's why we need art."

It's a fine collection that I know will encourage me to revisit both artist and poet's work more frequently.
Barry Hammond
Oct 26, 2011 Barry Hammond rated it really liked it
The art of Joseph Cornell is some of the most beautiful and mysterious in American history. Classified as a surrealist, Cornell is also a fetishist, icon-maker, an illusionist, and a magician. His boxes seem to have one foot in the realm of pawn-shops, junk dealers, dollar stores, old bookshops and the other foot in the supernatural realms of dreams. Charles Simic's poetry captures both the effect and some of the meaning that Cornell has on the viewer, both re-interpreting the artist and providi ...more
Laurie Niestrath
Mar 09, 2014 Laurie Niestrath rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
Simic's work is best appreciated along side a viewing of Cornell's work. The two are perfect companions. Without the visual representations, much needs to be "read into" this short collection. The opportunity to view his collages of film and assemblages are well worth the time to see his work on display at The Fralin Museum of Art, University of Virginia.
Ira Carter
Aug 07, 2016 Ira Carter rated it it was amazing
Recommended to me by a friend and fellow Cornell fan. Provides additional occasionally non-linear insights into Cornell and his work. Once you've looked at a catalog of JC's work and read Utopia Parkway, this will make more sense.
Nicholas During
Oct 25, 2011 Nicholas During rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In all ways a beautiful little book. Speculative, no doubt, but who better to do speculative that Charles Simic? And he was clearly inspired by his choice of topic. I think I'll never look at a Cornell piece again without thinking more deeply about it after reading this book. Perhaps even other art works as well. And that, I assume, is what Simic is after here. Both an homage to an artist he admires, and an example of a different art criticism. Not so much interested in the universal ways to exp ...more
Simic writes so well, that I have a new found interest of Cornell. All writers are influenced by the world, but Simic has picked one subject that had influence over his ideas of creativity and concentrated the energy brought on by Cornell's work- studying the influence to breed a brand new body of work. Part historical study, part dual biography and part poetry, this book encapsulates the theory of duet performance and conversation that comes when one artist decides to have a collaboration with ...more
The Bookloft
Bookseller: Mark

This is one of my favorite books of all time. Out of print for far too many years, this collection of meditations on the works of Joseph Cornell by poet Charles Simic is absolute brilliance. The pairing of artist and poet simply could not be more fitting. (Simic's Pulitzer Prize-winning collection The World Doesn't End is in many ways a perfect poetic analogue to the mysterious miniature box constructions of Cornell.)
Oct 07, 2015 E rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Brilliant slim little volume. Like Cornell's work, it contains shocks of undiluted imagination. And makes you want to make stories and pictures yourself.
Carrie McGath
Sep 25, 2015 Carrie McGath rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simic meets Cornell ... genius and lovely.
May 30, 2015 Kaya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Packed with little life philosophy gems.
Jan 24, 2016 Storyheart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
Dreamy, poetic and beautiful.
Matthew Thompson
Mar 20, 2012 Matthew Thompson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recently revived by the New York Review of Books, Dime-Store Alchemy pairs two kindred spirits, MacArthur grant winning poet Charles Simic and influential outsider artist Joseph Cornell, in a sublime work of miniaturized magic. Bypassing cumbersome analysis, Simic shoots instead for a kind of literary parallel to Cornell’s own enigmatic artistic methods: assembling seemingly disparate images and impressions, plucked quotations and fragments of biography, into elegant pawnshop puzzles just beggin ...more
Ben Schaffer
Nov 30, 2014 Ben Schaffer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aug 31, 2012 Thomas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Charles Simic can do no wrong for me personally but my enjoyment of this book was exceptional since I was expecting to only be able to find dry biographies on Joseph Cornell--it turns out there's a slight, readable series of meditations by one of my very favorite authors. Beautiful. Beautiful. Jonathan Safran-Foer did something vaguely similar as well. What was that called? A Convergence of Birds. Yeah. That was really good too, but that was a compilation of lots of authors.
Thomas Davis
Jun 27, 2008 Thomas Davis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just loaned this to a friend. It reminded me how little I like Simic in general, but how much I enjoyed this book. A series of poems, prose poems, and other reflective pieces all centered on the life and art of Joseph Cornell. If Cornell's boxes and constructions cast a spell over you, you'll be equally enchanted with this book.

"their biographies explain nothing..." Good line. I need to pass it out to every undergrad I ever have.
Curtis Bauer
Jan 06, 2010 Curtis Bauer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favoritebooks
I can't believe I forgot this one. It's one of my favorite Simic books...partly because it's also about Cornell...another favorite, but the poems in here bring Cornell to life. Little fictions. And if you aren't familiar with Simic's work (but if you're a reader of the NY Rev. of Books, you'll have seen how smart his essays are), also look at his collections of essays, all through the Univ of Mich. Press, Poets on Poetry series.
Lauren Albert
This book is probably of interest only to people who like Charles Simic or Joseph Cornell. For people interested in Cornell's art, Simic is extraordinarily eloquent in his interpretation of Cornell's work. At least it resonated with me. The book is hard to classify. It is a mix of prose poems inspired by Cornell's work and mini-essays on that work. I'm going to paste my favorite passages from the book on my page. 3/09
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 30 31 next »
  • Joseph Cornell's Theater of the Mind: Selected Diaries, Letters, and Files
  • Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell
  • Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay. . .Eterniday
  • Joseph Cornell: Master of Dreams
  • Off the Wall: A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg
  • Born Under Saturn: the Character and Conduct of Artists
  • The World of the Ten Thousand Things: Poems 1980-1990
  • The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration
  • Garbage
  • New Art City: Manhattan at Mid-Century
  • The Ghost Soldiers
  • Collected Poems
  • A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by Joseph Cornell
  • Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry
  • 100 Artists' Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists
  • Selected Poems
  • The Journal of Eugene Delacroix (Phaidon Arts and Letters)
  • Antipoems: How to Look Better and Feel Great
Charles Simic (born Dušan Simić) is a Serbian-American poet and the 15th Poet Laureate of the United States. He is co-Poetry Editor of the Paris Review. Simic is the 2007 recipient of the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. This $100,000 (US) prize recognizes outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.
More about Charles Simic...

Share This Book

“Insomnia is an all-night travel agency with posters advertising faraway places.” 88 likes
“Silence is the only language god speaks.” 26 likes
More quotes…