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About this poet

Charles Simic was born on May 9, 1938, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he had a traumatic childhood during World War II. In 1954 he emigrated from Yugoslavia with his mother and brother to join his father in the United States. They lived in and around Chicago until 1958.

His first poems were published in 1959, when he was twenty-one. In 1961 he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and in 1966 he earned his Bachelor's degree from New York University while working at night to cover the costs of tuition.

His first full-length collection of poems, What the Grass Says, was published the following year. Since then he has published more than sixty books in the U.S. and abroad, twenty titles of his own poetry among them, including New and Selected Poems: 1962-2012 (Harcourt, 2013); Master of Disguises (2010); That Little Something (2008); My Noiseless Entourage (2005); Selected Poems: 1963-2003 (Faber and Faber, 2004), for which he received the 2005 International Griffin Poetry Prize; The Voice at 3:00 AM: Selected Late and New Poems (2003); Night Picnic (2001); Jackstraws (1999), which was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times; and The Book of Gods and Devils (1990).

His other books of poetry include Walking the Black Cat (1996), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; A Wedding in Hell (1994); Hotel Insomnia (1992); The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems (1989), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990; Selected Poems: 1963-1983 (1990); and Unending Blues (1986).

In his essay "Poetry and Experience," Simic wrote: "At least since Emerson and Whitman, there's a cult of experience in American poetry. Our poets, when one comes right down to it, are always saying: This is what happened to me. This is what I saw and felt. Truth, they never get tired of reiterating, is not something that already exists in the world, but something that needs to be rediscovered almost daily."

Simic has also published numerous translations of French, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, and Slovenian poetry, and is the author of several books of essays, including Orphan Factory. He has edited several anthologies, including an edition of The Best American Poetry in 1992.

About his work, a reviewer for the Harvard Review said, "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."

Simic was appointed the fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 2007. About the appointment, 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."

"I am especially touched and honored to be selected because I am an immigrant boy who didn't speak English until I was 15," responded Simic after being named Poet Laureate.

Simic was chosen to receive the Academy Fellowship in 1998, and elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000. He has received numerous awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1995.

Most recently, he was the recipient of the 2011 Frost Medal, presented annually for "lifetime achievement in poetry." In 2007, he received the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. Simic is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Hampshire, where he has taught since 1973.


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From the Image Archive

 

Read Your Fate

Charles Simic, 1938
A world's disappearing.
Little street,
You were too narrow,
Too much in the shade already.

You had only one dog,
One lone child.
You hid your biggest mirror,
Your undressed lovers.

Someone carted them off
In an open truck.
They were still naked, travelling
On their sofa

Over a darkening plain,
Some unknown Kansas or Nebraska
With a storm brewing.
The woman opening a red umbrella

In the truck. The boy
And the dog running after them,
As if after a rooster
With its head chopped off.

Copyright © 1993 by Charles Simic. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the author.

Charles Simic

Charles Simic

Charles Simic was born on May 9, 1938, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where

by this poet

poem
St. John of the Cross wore dark glasses
As he passed me on the street.
St. Theresa of Avila, beautiful and grave,
Turned her back on me.

"Soulmate," they hissed. "It's high time."

I was a blind child, a wind-up toy . . .
I was one of death's juggling red balls
On a certain street corner
Where they peddle
poem
Extraordinary efforts are being made
To hide things from us, my friend.
Some stay up into the wee hours
To search their souls. 
Others undress each other in darkened rooms.

The creaky old elevator
Took us down to the icy cellar first
To show us a mop and a bucket
Before it deigned to ascend again
With a sigh of
poem
Of the light in my room:
Its mood swings,
Dark-morning glooms,
Summer ecstasies.

Spider on the wall,
Lamp burning late,
Shoes left by the bed,
I'm your humble scribe.

Dust balls, simple souls
Conferring in the corner.
The pearl earring she lost,
Still to be found.

Silence of falling snow,
Night vanishing