Image by Philip Simic

Charles Simic

b. 1938


A good-tasting homemade stew of angel and beast. - Charles Simic

In the Library

Charles Simic

Cameo Appearance

Charles Simic

The Clocks of the Dead

Charles Simic

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About Charles Simic

Charles Simic (b. 1938) grew up in Belgrade in former Yugoslavia, a childhood in which "Hitler and Stalin taught us the basics". A new life began in 1954 when he and his mother were allowed to join his father in the United States. Simic attended school in Chicago and then began working at the Chicago Sun Times. During this period he started to write and publish poetry and was a passionate self-educator, attending many night-classes. After two years national service in the US army, Simic settled in New York, got married and continued to write, his first collection appearing in 1967. In the intervening period he has published over sixty books, amongst them Charon's Cosmology, nominated for a National Book Award, The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Jackstraws which was included on the New York Times' shortlist of Notable Books of the Year. He taught English and creative writing for more than thirty years at the University of New Hampshire. In 2007, Charles Simic was appointed to be the United States Library of Congress's 15th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.

The critic, Helen Vendler, has described Simic as a "lover of food who has been instructed in starvation," hinting at the pleasures and privations which inform his work. As one of the "Bombed and fleeing humanity" ('Cameo Appearance') Simic was instilled from an early age with a deep distrust of absolutist thought. In defiance of ideology his poems brim with irreverence and scepticism, revelling in the "Juxtaposition of unlikely things...where one is bound to find an angel next to a pig." A serious surrealist, Simic draws us into a world in which a simple object like a fork can be transformed into nightmare. Unsettling encounters take place with the mad and the marginalised, often against a looming backdrop of darkness. Recurrent images - blood, flies, waiters, angels - hint at symbolism but without ever yielding one single interpretation. This uncertainty is at the heart of his vision which explores a universe of chance, "the world's raffle" ('Shelley'), in which either everything is planned...or nothing is.

Simic reads in a voice redolent of the history that haunts his poetry, an accent equal parts Serbian and New York twang. It embodies the rich tensions in his work, rooted both in the folklore traditions of Eastern Europe, yet at home amongst the wise-cracking rhythms of his adopted city.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 19 November 2003 in New York City and was produced by Jeffrey Wertz.

Charles Simic's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"Poetry tries to bridge the abyss lying between the name and the thing. That language is a problem is no news to poets." - Charles Simic

"No man whose sex life was satisfactory ever became a moral censor." - Mina Loy

"I'm in the business of translating what cannot be translated: being and its silence." - Charles Simic

"Even as I concentrate all my attention on the fly on the table, I glance fleetingly at myself." - Charles Simic

"Cioran is right when he says that we are all religious spirits without a religion." - Cioran

"A poem is an invitation to a voyage. As in life, we travel to see fresh sights." - Charles Simic

Additional material and useful links

Metaphysician of Doubt

A review of Charles Simic's first reading as U.S. poetry laureate.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=180045

Charles Simic

Talking with the new poet laureate

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/audioitem.html?id=124

Charles Simic reads 1938

Video of Charles Simic reading "1938".

http://www.youtube.com/embed/aU2Wp0PaTx8

Interview with Charles Simic

An exclusive interview following Charles Simic's receipt of the 2011 Vilcek Prize in Literature.

http://vimeo.com/25250973

Charles Simic recording Woodberry Poetry Room

Charles Simic recording, Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard.

http://hcl.harvard.edu/poetryroom/listeningbooth/index.cfm#

Selected bibliography

Thomas Campion: Poems selected by Charles Simic, Faber...

New British Poetry (editor with Don Paterson), Graywolf...

The Best American Poetry 1992 (editor), Scribners, 1993

A Wake for the Living: poems of Radmila Lazic (...

The Little Box: poems of Vasko Popa (translator), The...

The Monster Loves his Labyrinth, Ausable Press, 2007

Memory Piano (prose), University of Michigan, 2006

That Little Something, Harcourt, 2007

My Noiseless Entourage, Harcourt, 2005

Aunt Lettuce I Want to Peek Under Your Skirt, Bloomsbury...

Charles Simic in Conversation with Michael Hulse,...

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Homage to Hat and Uncle Guide and Eliot, Tomaz Salamun (...

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Selected Poems 1963-2003, Faber and Faber, 2004

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The Voice at 3A.M.: Selected Later Poems, Harcourt, 2003

Horace: The Odes (translator with others), Princeton...

Night Picnic, Harcourt, 2001

Metaphysician in the Dark (essays), University of...

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A Fly in the Soup (essays), University of Michigan Press...

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Tomaz Salamun, Feast (editor), Harcourt, 2000

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Deborah Tall, Summons: Poems (editor), Sarabande Books,...

Selected Early Poems, Braziller, 1999

Jackstraws, Harcourt Brace/Faber & Faber, 1999

Buy

Alexsandar Ristovic, Devils' Lunch (translator), Faber...

Orphan Factory (essays), University of Michigan Press,...

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Scar on the Stone: Contemporary Poetry from Bosnia (...

Looking for Trouble, Faber & Faber, 1997

Walking the Black Cat, Harcourt Brace, Thomson Learning...

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Frightening Toys, Faber & Faber, 1995

Buy

A Wedding in Hell, Harcourt Brace, 1994

The Unemployed Fortune-Teller: Essays and Memoirs,...

Buy

The Best American Poetry, 1992 (editor with David Lehman...

Hotel Insomnia, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992

Novica Tadic, Night Mail (translator), Field Translation...

The Horse Has Six Legs: An Anthology of Serbian Poetry (...

Buy

Slavko Janevski, The Bandit Wind (translator), Dryad...

Wonderful Words, Silent Truth: Essays on Poetry and a...

Buy

Bright Moves, J. Allyn Rosser (editor), Northeastern...

Selected Poems, 1963-1983: Revised and Expanded,...

The Book of Gods and Devils, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,...

The World Doesn't End, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989

Aleksandar Ristovic, Some Other Wine and Light (...

The Essential Campion (editor), The Essential Poets...

Roll Call of Mirrors: Selected Poems of Ivan V. Lalic (...

Selected Poems of Tomaz Salamun (translator), Ecco Press...

Unending Blues, Mariner Books; 1 edition (May 1987)

Selected Poems, 1963-1983, Braziller/Secker and Warburg...

The Uncertain Certainty: Interviews, Essays and Notes on...

Weather Forecast for Utopia and Vicinity, Poems 1967-...

Austerities, Braziller/Secker and Warburg, 1982/1983 -...

Slavko Mihalic, Atlantis: Selected Poems 1953-1982 (...

White: A New Version, Logbridge-Rhodes Press, 1980 - not...

Classic Ballroom Dances, Braziller, 1980 - not in print

Vasko Popa, Homage to the Lame Wolf: Selected Poems 1956...

Djordje Nicolic, Key to Dreams According to Djordje (...

Charon's Cosmology, Braziller, 1977 - not in print

Contemporary Yugoslav Poetry (translator), University of...

Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers...

Biography and a Lament, Poems 1961-1967, Bartholomew's...

The Poetry of Surrealism: An Anthology (translator with...

Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk, Braziller,...

White, New Rivers Press, 1972 - not in print

Dismantling the Silence, Braziller/Jonathan Cape, 1971

Somewhere among Us a Stone Is Taking Notes, Kayak, 1969...

What the Grass Says, Kayak, 1967 - not in print

Ivan V. Lalic, Fire Gardens: Selected Poems 1956-1969, (...

Four Yugoslav Poets: Ivan V. Lalic, Branko Milijkovic,...

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