“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 that 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, The Lunatic (2015), The Life of Images (2015), 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.
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 Paris Review.
Charles Simic is the author of numerous collections of poems, among them, The Lunatic, Master of Disguises; Selected Poems: 1963-2003, for which he received the 2005 International Griffin Poetry Prize; The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Classic Ballroom Dances, 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. Simic has also published a number of prose books, most recently Memory Piano, and many translations of poets from former Yugoslavia as well as an anthology of Serbian poetry entitled The Horse Has Six Legs. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and The Paris Review.
THE LUNATIC (Poetry, 2015)
THE LIFE OF IMAGES (Prose, 2015)
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.
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.
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.
CARRYING ON LIKE A CROW (excerpt)
Are you authorized to speak
For these trees without leaves?
Are you able to explain
What the wind intends to do
With a man’s shirt and a woman’s nightgown
Left on the laundry line?
What do you know about dark clouds?
Ponds full of fallen leaves?
Old-model cars rusting in a driveway?
—from Master of Disguises
IN THE JUNK STORE
A small, straw basket
Full of medals
From good old wars
No one recalls.
I flipped one over
To feel the pin
That once pierced
The hero’s swelling chest.
—from That Little Something
The mail truck goes down the coast
Carrying a single letter.
At the end of a long pier
The bored seagull lifts a leg now and then
And forgets to put it down.
There is a menace in the air
Of tragedies in the making.
Last night you thought you heard television
In the house next door.
You were sure it was some new
Horror they were reporting,
So you went out to find out.
Barefoot, wearing just shorts.
It was only the sea sounding weary
After so many lifetimes
Of pretending to be rushing off somewhere
And never getting anywhere.
This morning, it felt like Sunday.
The heavens did their part
By casting no shadow along the boardwalk
Or the row of vacant cottages,
Among them a small church
With a dozen gray tombstones huddled close
As if they, too, had the shivers.
THE TRAGIC SENSE OF LIFE
Because few here recall the old wars,
The burning of Atlanta and Dresden,
The great-uncle who lies in Arlington,
Or that Vietnam vet on crutches,
Who tried to bum a dime or a cigarette.
The lake is still in the early morning light.
The road winds, I slow down to let
A small, furry animal cross in a hurry.
The few remaining wisps of fog
Are like smoke rising out of cannons.
In one little town flags fly over dark houses.
Outside a church made of gray stone
The statue of the Virgin blesses the day.
Her son is inside afraid to light a candle,
Saying, Forgive one another, clothe the naked.
Niobe and her children may live here.
As for me, I don’t know where I am
And here I’m already leaving in a hurry
Down a stretch with nothing to see,
Dark woods everywhere closing in on me.
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