Friday, May 24, 2013

CHARLES SIMIC ~ New and Selected Poems{1962–2012}



Charles Simic was born on May 9th 1938 in Belgrade, in what was then Yugoslavia, (now part of Serbia). As a child growing up in war torn Europe, he experienced the trauma of being one of the millions of displaced whilst both the “Germans and the Allies took turns to bomb him”. This obviously shaped much of his world view, leading him to joke in interviews that “Stalin and Hitler were his travel agents” and that in  addition to his own tale of bad luck, he was around to hear plenty of others and is still amazed by the vileness and stupidity witnessed in his life.

  In 1954, at the age of sixteen he emigrated with his mother and brother, joining his father who was living in Chicago, in the United States where Simic attended high school and began to take a serious interest in poetry, although he admits that the reason he began exploring the art form was to meet girls. Charles Simic published his first poetry in 1959 at the age of twenty-one whilst attending the University of Chicago, but was drafted in 1961 into the U.S Army. By 1966 he had earned his B.A. from New York University, with his first full length collection of poetry What the Grass Says, published the following year.

By the early seventies he was beginning to make a name for himself, with both his own poetry and the translations of important Yugoslavian poets, attracting critical acclaim. Since then he has won numerous awards and was chosen to receive Academy Fellowship in 1998, also 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. In 2000 he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, more recently, in 2007, he received the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets and he was the recipient of the 2011 Frost Medal, presented annually for "lifetime achievement in poetry”. Also in 2007 Charles Simic was appointed the fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, of which the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington stated:

"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 humour."

He also received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990 for The World Doesn't End, and was a finalist of the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for Selected Poems 1963-1983 and in 1987 for Unending Blues. He is professor emeritus of American literature and creative writing at the University of New Hampshire , where he has taught since 1973.


Charles Simic is one of those writers I was more aware of than knew, for example I knew of him as editor of the Paris Review, and over the years I've read  bits of his poetry, but I had no understanding of his prolific work as a translator, editor and essayist, or that he has translated the work of French, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian and Slovenian poets, including Tomaz Salamun and Vasko Popa. Although I was aware of him I couldn't have strung together anything more than a threads worth of information. So when this collection Charles Simic ~ New and Selected Poems{1962–2012} came up, here was my chance to learn more about a writer who seems to stride across the American literary world of the last fifty years, commenting on the state of poetry, still contributing poetry and prose to The New York Review of Books and in 2007, a judge of the Griffin Poetry Prize. Someone who a writer for the  Harvard Review said of:

"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."


Paradise Motel

Millions were dead; everybody was innocent.
I stayed in my room. The President
Spoke of war as of a magic love potion.
My eyes were opened in astonishment.
In a mirror my face appeared to me
Like a twice-cancelled postage stamp.


I lived well, but life was awful.
there were so many soldiers that day,
So many refugees crowding the roads.
Naturally, they all vanished
With a touch of the hand.
History licked the corners of its bloody mouth.

On the pay channel, a man and a woman
Were trading hungry kisses and tearing off
Each other's clothes while I looked on
With the sound off and the room dark
Except for the screen where the color
Had too much red in it, too much pink.


This anthology covers a span fifty years and close to four hundred poems, distilling Simic’s life’s work combining  poetry from his earliest writing through to his later work, featuring  seventeen new, never before published poems and around thirty revisions. Tracing the path of this writer from a newly arrived immigrant through to the heartlands of America, on the way tracing it’s history through the blues & jazz, it’s folktales and urban myths. Charles Simic’s tale is that of America, not the one defined by the Madison Avenue, but by those individuals hollering on street corners, or praying knelt at the back of an empty church for just one more night, it’s that moment one second away from madness, when the lens focuses, shifts and the light refracts onto a new strange tableaux, before restoring itself to the same sidewalk, on the same street in the same town, USA. This is a collection of poetry by one of America’s most celebrated poets, spanning over thirty collections and offering the reader the opportunity of experiencing the full range of this poets oeuvre and the chance to retrace the career of one of the most prolific and yet unique voices in contemporary literature.



The Inner Man

It isn’t the body
That’s a stranger.
It’s someone else.

We poke the same
Ugly mug
At the world.
When I scratch
He scratches too.

There are women
Who claim to have held him.
A dog follows me about.
It might be his.

If I’m quiet, he’s quieter.
So I forget him.
Yet, as I bend down
To tie my shoelaces,
He’s standing up.

We caste a single shadow.
Whose shadow?

I’d like to say:Charles Simic
“He was in the beginning
And he’ll be in the end,”
But one can’t be sure.

At night
As I sit
Shuffling the cards of our silence,
I say to him:

“Though you utter
Every one of my words,
You are a stranger.
It’s time you spoke.”


Charles Simic (Wiki)


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Poemhunter (Charles Simic)


James said...

Thanks for highlighting Simic. Like you I was unaware of the breadth of his work. Now he's on my radar.

Brian Joseph said...

I have never read Simic but I really like the lines that you posted. In particular in find,

"History licked the corners of its bloody mouth."

to be very effective and shows a certain amount of weary and despairing wisdom.

Andrew Blackman said...

Sounds like a very comprehensive anthology! I like the sound of it, especially the way you describe the underbelly of America - that's such fertile ground for either fiction or poetry. There's so much sadness on the other side of the American Dream, so many people who never quite made it and don't know why or how it happened. Thanks for introducing me to Simic's work!

@parridhlantern said...

Hi James, Knew of him, but not much more.

Hi Brian, Loved those lines also & found many that made me think.

Hello Andrew, It is, I didn't realise how much he had done. Totally agree about the flip side of that dream.