In this short collection of essays (some previously published in Antaeus and other literary reviews), Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Simic (Hotel Insomnia, 1992, etc.) brings off a masterfully casual beauty, whether discussing the creation of poetry and the poet's social role, praising food and the blues, or relating the travails of youth. Suspicious of all absolutist thought, the Yugoslavia-born Simic (English/Univ. of New Hampshire) is a committed individualist and, like some Eastern bloc poets who have endured socialist realism, a humorous surrealist. In deceptively discursive and casual prose, he touches on simple subjects to delve into deeper matters -- for example, an autobiographical sketch chronicles his search for the meaning of human happiness in terms of favorite dishes, including Yugoslavian burek and American potato chips. Whether the subject matter is as academic as Surrealist composition, or as contemporary as the genetic engineering of his favorite fruit, the tomato, Simic gregariously mixes personal conversations with literary quotations (or, just as appositely, folk sayings and songs), and his prose can suddenly flare up into startling images: ""Words make love on the page like flies in the summer heat."" These essays' variety of approaches and subjects shows the eclectic mix of true multiculturalism, for Simic is an intellectual in the postwar model of immigrant cum exile, versed in European traditions yet enthusiastic about American culture as well. This comes into sharpest relief in his essay on murderous nationalism in Yugoslavia and his album of snapshot reminiscences of Belgrade, Chicago, and New York City. Sometimes, though, Simic's light touch fails to leave a lasting impression on the serious philosophical subjects he addresses, his selection of notebook aphorisms are hit-or-miss, and a couple of brief essays are simply culled from introductions. In one odd notebook jotting Simic projects creating a ""nongenre made up of fiction, autobiography, the essay, poetry, and of course, the joke!""-- an apt description of this collection's hodge-podge charm.