About Charles Simic

Charles Simic (b. 1938) grew up in Belgrade in former Yugoslavia, a childhood in which “Hitler and Stalin taught us the basics”. A new life began in 1954 when he and his mother were allowed to join his father in the United States. Simic attended school in Chicago and then began working at the Chicago Sun Times. During this period he started to write and publish poetry and was a passionate self-educator, attending many night-classes. After two years national service in the US army, Simic settled in New York, got married and continued to write, his first collection appearing in 1967. In the intervening period he has published over sixty books, amongst them Charon’s Cosmology, nominated for a National Book Award, The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Jackstraws which was included on the New York Times’ shortlist of Notable Books of the Year. He taught English and creative writing for more than thirty years at the University of New Hampshire. In 2007, Charles Simic was appointed to be the United States Library of Congress’s 15th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.

The critic, Helen Vendler, has described Simic as a “lover of food who has been instructed in starvation,” hinting at the pleasures and privations which inform his work. As one of the “Bombed and fleeing humanity” (‘Cameo Appearance’) Simic was instilled from an early age with a deep distrust of absolutist thought. In defiance of ideology his poems brim with irreverence and scepticism, revelling in the “Juxtaposition of unlikely things…where one is bound to find an angel next to a pig.” A serious surrealist, Simic draws us into a world in which a simple object like a fork can be transformed into nightmare. Unsettling encounters take place with the mad and the marginalised, often against a looming backdrop of darkness. Recurrent images – blood, flies, waiters, angels – hint at symbolism but without ever yielding one single interpretation. This uncertainty is at the heart of his vision which explores a universe of chance, “the world’s raffle” (‘Shelley’), in which either everything is planned…or nothing is.

Simic reads in a voice redolent of the history that haunts his poetry, an accent equal parts Serbian and New York twang. It embodies the rich tensions in his work, rooted both in the folklore traditions of Eastern Europe, yet at home amongst the wise-cracking rhythms of his adopted city.

Charles Simic’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:

“Poetry tries to bridge the abyss lying between the name and the thing. That language is a problem is no news to poets.” – Charles Simic

“No man whose sex life was satisfactory ever became a moral censor.” – Mina Loy

“I’m in the business of translating what cannot be translated: being and its silence.” – Charles Simic

“Even as I concentrate all my attention on the fly on the table, I glance fleetingly at myself.” – Charles Simic

“Cioran is right when he says that we are all religious spirits without a religion.” – Cioran

“A poem is an invitation to a voyage. As in life, we travel to see fresh sights.” – Charles Simic

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 19 November 2003 in New York City and was produced by Jeffrey Wertz.

Poems by Charles Simic

Fork - Charles Simic
The Clocks of the Dead - Charles Simic
Cameo Appearance - Charles Simic
In the Library - Charles Simic
Charles Simic in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.

Books by Charles Simic

Awards

1980

PEN Translation Prize

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1983

Ingram Merrill Foundation Fellowship

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1984-89

MacArthur Fellowship

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1986

Pulitzer Prize finalist

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1987

Pulitzer Prize finalist

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1990

Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

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2007

Wallace Stevens Award

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2011

Frost Medal

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2011

Vilcek Prize in Literature

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2014

The Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award

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2017

Golden Wreath of the Struga Poetry Evenings

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