Charles Simic

United States Poet Laureate (2007-2008)
Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet
MacArthur "Genius" Award Recipient

 

“Charles Simic's writing comes dancing out on the balls of its feet, colloquially fit as a fiddle.” —Seamus Heaney

 

“There are few poets writing in America today who share his lavish appetite for the bizarre, his inexhaustible repertoire of indelible characters and gestures...Simic is perhaps our most disquieting muse.” —Harvard Review

 

Charles Simic, the fifteenth Poet Laureate of the United States (2007-2008), was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1938, and immigrated to the United States in 1953 at the age of 15. He has lived in New York, Chicago, the San Francisco area, and for many years in New Hampshire where until his retirement he was a professor of English at the university.

A poet, essayist, and translator, Simic has been honored with the Frost Medal, the Wallace Stevens Award, a Pulitzer Prize, two PEN Awards for his work as a translator, and a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2014, he was awarded the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award, which recognizes outstanding artistic and intellectual literary achievements, which uphold the values of Zbigniew Herbert’s work. Edward Hirsch, a member of the international Jury, points out that Simic “specializes in tragicomedy. Like Zbigniew Herbert, he has a keen historical awareness, a sardonic sense of humor, and a powerful consciousness of human tragedy. He speaks out against human venality. His way of attacking a poem has inspired poets world-wide. He also inspires readers because he reminds people of their humanity.”

Since 1967 Simic has published numerous collections of poems, among them, Master of Disguises (2010); That Little Something (2008); My Noiseless Entourage (2005); Selected Poems: 1963-2003 (2004), for which he received the 2005 International Griffin Poetry Prize; The Voice at 3:00 AM: Selected Late and New Poems (2003); The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems (1990), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Selected Poems: 1963-1983 (1990); Classic Ballroom Dances (1980), which won the University of Chicago’s Harriet Monroe Award and the Poetry Society of America’s di Castagnola Award. A collection entitled Sixty Poems was released in honor of his appointment as US Poet Laureate. His most recent collection, New and Selected Poems {1962-2012}, was published in 2013.

About his appointment to US Poet Laureate, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, "The range of Charles Simic's imagination is evident in his stunning and unusual imagery. He handles language with the skill of a master craftsman, yet his poems are easily accessible, often meditative and surprising. He has given us a rich body of highly organized poetry with shades of darkness and flashes of ironic humor."

Simic has also published a number of prose books: Memory Piano (2006); Metaphysician in the Dark (2003); A Fly in My Soup (2003); Orphan Factory (1998); The Unemployed Fortune-Teller: Essays and Memoirs (1994); Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell (1992); Wonderful Words, Silent Truth: Essays on Poetry and a Memoir (1990); and The Renegade, a book of essays. He has published many translations of poets from former Yugoslavia such as Ivan Lalic, Vasko Popa, Tomaz Salamun, and Aleksandar Ristovic, as well as an anthology of Serbian poetry entitled The Horse Has Six Legs, which he both edited and translated. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and the poetry editor of The Paris Review.

Bucknell University Commencement Speech

About MASTER OF DISGUISES (Poetry, 2010)
In his first volume of poetry since his tenure as poet laureate, Charles Simic shows he is at the height of his poetic powers. These new poems mine the rich strain of inscrutability in ordinary life, until it is hard to know what is innocent and what is ominous. There is something about his work that continues to be crystal clear and yet deeply weighted with violence and mystery. Reading it is like going undercover. The face of a girl carrying a white dress from the cleaners with her eyes half-closed. The Adam & Evie Tanning Salon at night. A sparrow on crutches. A rubber duck in a shooting gallery on a Sunday morning. And someone in a tree swing, too old to be swinging and to be wearing no clothes at all, blowing a toy trumpet at the sky.

About THE RENEGADE: WRITINGS ON POETRY AND A FEW OTHER THINGS (Essays, 2009)
The fifteenth US Poet Laureate collects his latest essays on subjects ranging from poetry to his childhood years in Belgrade. In these essays, Charles Simic delves into the lives and work of poets, novelists, artists, and playwrights, beginning with his own experiences before turning to those of Christopher Marlowe, Odilon Redon, W. S. Sebald, Louise Glück, and many more. Throughout he celebrates the renegade spirit, whether it inspires a rogue ant to depart from his prescribed path or a poet to write unfashionably honest verse. Simic brings the personal worlds of each writer and artist to life, discussing their friends, homes, influences, and the rooms that shaped their outlooks. His portraits urge the reader to regard writers and artists as protean, fallible men and women rather than as immutable icons; and he reveals the key turning points in the creative lives of his subjects, noting their creative failures as often as he does their successes. He is unflinching in his analyses of even the most beloved cultural figures, following his enthralling praises with unforgettable, piercing critiques.

About THAT LITTLE SOMETHING (Poetry, 2008)
In his eighteenth collection, Charles Simic, the superb poet of the vaguely ominous sound, the disturbing, potentially significant image, moves closer to the dark heart of history and human behavior. "Evil things are being done in our name," he writes in "Those Who Clean After," and, even more directly, in "Memories of the Future" he writes:

There are one or two murderers in any crowd.

They do not suspect their destinies yet.
Wars are started to make it easy for them
To kill that woman pushing a baby carriage.

Simic understands the strange interplay between ordinary life and extremes, between reality and imagination; and he writes with absolute purity about those contradictory but simultaneous states of being or feeling: "Everything about you / My life, is both / Make-believe and real." A profoundly important poet for our time, and a stunning book.