Poetry Dispatch No. 293 | September 15, 2009
by Charles Simic
It’ll be a while before my friends
See me in the city,
A while before we roam the streets
Late at night
Shouting each other’s names
To point out some sight too wonderful,
Or too terrifying
To give it a name in a hurry.
I’m staying in the country,
Listening to the birds
Greet the light,
And when they fall quiet,
To the wind in the leaves
Which are as numerous here
As the crowds in your city.
God never made a day as beautiful as today,
A neighbor was saying.
I sat in the shade after she left
Mulling that one over,
When a toad hopped out of the grass
And finding me harmless,
Hopped over my foot on his way to the pond.
[from The New York Review of Books, August 13, 2009]
Dušan “Charles” Simić (born 9 May 1938) is a Serbian-American poet, and was co-Poetry Editor of the Paris Review. He was appointed the fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 2007.
Simic was born in Belgrade, which was then in Yugoslavia. Growing up in war-torn Europe as a child shaped much of his world-view. In an interview from the Cortland Review he said, “Being one of the millions of displaced persons made an impression on me. In addition to my own little story of bad luck, I heard plenty of others. I’m still amazed by all the vileness and stupidity I witnessed in my life.” Simic immigrated to the United States with his family in 1954 when he was sixteen. He grew up in Chicago and received his B.A. from New York University. He is professor emeritus of American literature and creative writing at the University of New Hampshire and lives on the shore of Bow Lake in Strafford, New Hampshire.
He began to make a name for himself in the early to mid 1970s as a literary minimalist, writing terse, imagistic poems which, like those of William Blake, have their roots in observed objects that serve to extrapolate the universe. Over the years, Simic’s style has come to be considered immediately recognizable. Critics have often referred to Simic poems as “tightly constructed Chinese puzzle boxes.” Simic himself has stated: “Words make love on the page like flies in the summer heat and the poet is only the bemused spectator.” The quote intimates Simic’s philosophy that true art must be greater than the person who created it. He writes thoughtfully on such diverse topics as jazz, art, and philosophy. He exerts considerable influence not only as poet, but as translator, essayist and philosopher, opining on the current state of contemporary American poetry. He held the position of poetry editor of The Paris Review, and was replaced by Dan Chiasson.
Simic is one of the judges for the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize and continues to contribute poetry and prose to The New York Review of Books. Simic received the US$100,000 Wallace Stevens Award in 2007 from the Academy of American Poets in recognition of his outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. Simic was selected by James Billington, Librarian of Congress, to be the fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, succeeding Donald Hall. Billington referred to “the rather stunning and original quality of his poetry”.
- * MacArthur Fellowship (1984-1989)
- * Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1990)
- * Wallace Stevens Award (2007)
- * What the Grass Says – 1967
- * Somewhere Among Us A Stone Is Taking Notes – 1969
- * Dismantling The Silence – 1971
- * White – 1972
- * Return To A Place Lit By A Glass Of Milk – 1974
- * Charon’s Cosmology – 1977
- * School For Dark Thoughts – 1978
- * Classic Ballroom Dances – 1980
- * Austerities – 1982
- * Weather Forecast for Utopia & Vicinity: Poems 1967-1982 – 1983
- * Unending Blues – 1986
- * The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems – 1989 (1990 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry )
- * The Book of Gods and Devils – 1990
- * Hotel Insomnia – 1992
- * Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell – 1993
- * A Wedding in Hell – 1994
- * Walking the Black Cat – 1996 (National Book Award in Poetry finalist)
- * Jackstraws – 1999 (New York Times Notable Book of the Year)
- * Night Picnic: Poems – 2001
- * A Fly in the Soup: Memoirs – 2002
- * The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems – 2003
- * Selected Poems: 1963-2003 – 2004 (winner of the 2005 International Griffin Poetry Prize)
- * My Noiseless Entourage: Poems – 2005
- * Aunt Lettuce, I Want To Peek Under Your Skirt – 2005 (illustrated by Howie Michels)
- * Monkey Around – 2006
- * Sixty Poems – 2008
- * That Little Something: Poems – 2008
- * Monster Loves His Labyrinth – 2008
- * Army: Memoir. In preparation – 2008