Authors: Charles Simic

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Author Works

Poetry:

What the Grass Says, 1967

Somewhere Among Us a Stone Is Taking Notes, 1969

Dismantling the Silence, 1971

White, 1972, revised 1980

Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk, 1974

Biography and a Lament: Poems, 1961-1967, 1976

Charon’s Cosmology, 1977

Brooms: Selected Poems, 1978

Classic Ballroom Dances, 1980

Austerities, 1982

Shaving at Night, 1982

The Chicken Without a Head, 1983

Weather Forecast for Utopia and Vicinity: Poems, 1967-1982, 1983

Selected Poems, 1963-1983, 1985, revised 1990, expanded as Selected Early Poems, 1999

Unending Blues, 1986

The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems, 1989

The Book of Gods and Devils, 1990

In the Room We Share, 1990

Hotel Insomnia, 1992

A Wedding in Hell, 1994

Frightening Toys, 1995

Walking the Black Cat, 1996

Looking for Trouble, 1997

Jackstraws, 1999

Night Picnic, 2001.

Translations:

Four Yugoslav Poets: Ivan V. Lalic, Brank Miljkovic, Milorad Pavic, Ljubomir Simovic, 1970

The Little Box: Poems, 1970 (of Vasko Popa)

Homage to the Lame Wolf: Selected Poems, 1956-1975, 1979, enlarged 1987 (of Popa)

Roll Call of Mirrors: Selected Poems, 1988 (of IvanV. Lalic)

Some Other Wine and Light, 1989 (of Aleksandar Ristovic)

The Bandit Wind, 1991 (of Slavko Janevski)

The Horse Has Six Legs: An Anthology of Serbian Poetry, 1992

Night Mail: Selected Poems, 1992 (of Novica Tadic)

Devil’s Lunch: Selected Poems, 2000 (of Ristovic).

Nonfiction:

The Uncertain Certainty: Interviews, Essays, and Notes on Poetry, 1985

Wonderful Words, Silent Truth: Essays on Poetry and a Memoir, 1990

Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell, 1992

The Unemployed Fortune-Teller: Essays and Memoirs, 1994

Orphan Factory: Essays and Memoirs, 1997

A Fly in the Soup: Memoirs, 2000

Edited Texts:

Another Republic, 1976 (with Mark Strand)

The Essential Campion, 1988 (Thomas Campion)

The Best American Poetry, 1992, 1992

Mermaids Explained: Poems, 2001

Biography

Charles Simic (SEEM-ihch) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. Naturalized as an American citizen in 1971, Simic was born in Belgrade, then located in Yugoslavia. With black humor he recalls his childhood during World War II, marked by bombings and waves of advancing and retreating soldiers, as “a three-ring circus.” He describes how, from the summer of 1944 to mid-1945, he “ran around the streets of Belgrade with other half-abandoned kids.” Critics have speculated that the peculiar blend of horror and whimsy in Simic’s work can be traced to those days. Simic admits to still being “haunted by images” of the war.{$I[AN]9810001645}{$I[A]Simic, Charles}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Simic, Charles}{$I[tim]1938;Simic, Charles}

Charles Simic

(© Kevin Wells)

In 1949 Simic and his mother moved to Chicago to join his father, an engineer who had found employment there with the telephone company for which he had worked in Yugoslavia. His father took him to hear jazz, which Simic credits with making him “both an American and a poet.”

Beginning in 1957, Simic attended the University of Chicago at night and worked during the day as a proofreader at the Chicago Sun Times. He eventually transferred to New York University, from which he received a B.A. in 1967. From 1966 to 1969 Simic, who initially studied to be an artist, worked as an editorial assistant for Aperture, a photography magazine. He began teaching at California State College, Hayward, in 1970. He left that position in 1973, when he was hired as an associate professor of English at the University of New Hampshire.

While a student at the University of Chicago, Simic had audited a poetry workshop taught by John Logan. Logan’s workshops and seminars were associated with Surrealist experimentation, and many of Simic’s early poems appeared in the magazine kayak, an organ for American Surrealist verse. The impulse of Surrealism, which appealed to poets coming of age during and after the unleashing of tribalism’s dark side in World War II, was to draw on an archetypal voice inside oneself that transcended national borders. The influence of Surrealism has been noted by critics in the visionary and dreamlike structure of Simic’s poems.

The concentrated effort of attention on an object in Simic’s early verse more specifically links him to a group of American poets known as the Deep Imagists, which included Robert Bly and W. S. Merwin. From Simic’s first published collection, What the Grass Says, to his second, Somewhere Among Us a Stone Is Taking Notes, critic Victor Contoski finds the poet receding in the poems, becoming “more absorbed in objects.” Silence becomes a means of communication, as in it the poet hears the “tiny voices of things.” In Simic’s next collection, Dismantling the Silence, Simic offers instruction for deconstructing silence in order to discover its nature. In the three-part White the narrative voice perceptively shifts to that of the object, here, the color white. White has been read by critics as a deliberate dispossession, freeing the poet to re-create himself. Subsequent poetry finds Simic exploring the self, though less as a subject than as a verb–that is, the self in action and in flux.

Critic Peter Schmidt, noting references to Walt Whitman’s poetry throughout White, sees in it Simic confronting his American poetic origins. Simic claims that, because all his serious reading had been in English and American literature when he started writing poetry in high school, he has never been capable of writing a poem in Serbian, his native language. Nevertheless, critics invariably characterize his work as European in its mordant playfulness and primitive, folkloric elements. Simic has been a prolific English-language translator of Serbian poets, including Vasko Popa, Ivan Lalic, and Aleksandar Ristovic. In both 1970 and 1980 Simic received the translation award given by the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN).

The Third Balkan War echoes in much of Simic’s work starting in the 1990’s. In an essay first published in The New Republic, the father of two unflinchingly condemned his fellow Serbs for their aggression. “Lyric poets,” he has said, “assert the individual’s experience against that of the tribe.”

BibliographyHart, Kevin. “Writing Things: Literary Property in Heidegger and Simic.” New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 21 (Autumn, 1989): 199-214. Especially useful for readers wishing to explore the relationship between Simic’s poetry and the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Citing examples from Simic’s poems, Hart extensively explores Simic’s affinity with Heidegger’s phenomenological philosophy.Nash, Susan Smith. Review of Walking the Black Cat, by Charles Simic. World Literature Today 71, no. 4 (Autumn, 1997): 793-794. This is an enthusiastic appraisal that views this collection as a cohesive and focused expression of Simic’s major themes.Orlich, Ileana. “The Poet on a Roll: Charles Simic’s ‘The Tomb of Stéphane Mallarmé.’” Centennial Review 36, no. 2 (Spring, 1992): 413-428. Orlich examines Simic’s relationship to the Surrealists, and in particular the role of chance, through a close reading of a key poem. Orlich considers the poem to be an aesthetic manifesto.Simic, Charles. Interview by Molly McQuade. Publishers Weekly 234 (November 2, 1990): 56-57. This lively interview focuses on Simic’s origins as a poet and on the autobiographical basis of The Book of Gods and Devils.Simic, Charles. The Uncertain Certainty: Interviews, Essays, and Notes on Poetry. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1985. This volume collects much of what Simic has said about poetic theory and practice. Of these interviews and essays, particularly noteworthy are the interview with Sherod Santos, in which Simic discusses the genesis and development of his work, and Simic’s essay “Negative Capability and Its Children,” in which he explores John Keats’s notion of the poet as “capable of being in uncertainties.” The Uncertain Certainty is an invaluable aid to understanding not only Simic’s work but also the nature of poetry itself.Stitt, Peter. “Charles Simic: Poetry in a Time of Madness.” In Uncertainty and Plenitude: Five Contemporary Poets. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997. Though Simic’s imagery suggests a surrealist orientation, he is essentially a realist who reflects his Eastern European heritage. A close reading of several poems establishes the archetypal nature of Simic’s speakers and the displacement of the poet’s own ego.Vendler, Helen. “A World of Foreboding: Charles Simic.” In Soul Says: On Recent Poetry. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995. Focusing on Hotel Insomnia, Vendler provides a comprehensive overview of Simic’s themes and methods. She charts a “master list” of key words that run through this collection. Astute analysis by a major critic.Weigl, Bruce. Charles Simic. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Traces the critical reception of Simic’s poetry across a quarter century, in an effort to delineate Simic’s aesthetic. Bibliography.
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