Monday, 24 June 2013

Poet: Charles Simic

In one of the previous blogs I've mentioned that there is a poet with whom I think I share somewhat similar poetry style. But that's for the reader to decide. I don't read that much poetry as one would think, I read a few poets which inspire me, and Charles Simić is one of them. I'm kind of picky when it comes to poetry.

Photo from

Dušan "Charles" Simić is a Serbian-American poet and was co-poetry editor of the Paris Review. He 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 was appointed the fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 2007.

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.

»Charles Simic is widely recognized as one of the most visceral and unique poets writing today. Although he emigrated to the U.S. from Yugoslavia as a teenager, Simic writes in English, drawing upon his own experiences of war-torn Belgrade to compose poems about the physical and spiritual poverty of modern life. Simic’s work defies easy categorization. Some poems reflect a surreal, metaphysical bent and others offer grimly realistic portraits of violence and despair. Some of Simic’s best-known works challenge the dividing line between the ordinary and extraordinary. He animates and gives substance to inanimate objects, discerning the strangeness in household items as ordinary as a knife or a spoon. And though Simic’s subjects are often surreal, evoking a dark Eastern Europe of the mind, his language is frank and accessible. Simic has been incredibly prolific as a poet, translator, editor and essayist. He has translated the work of French, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian and Slovenian poets, including Tomaz Salamun and Vasko Popa" (source)

Discussing his creative process, Simic has said: “When you start putting words on the page, an associative process takes over. And, all of a sudden, there are surprises. All of a sudden you say to yourself, ‘My God, how did this come into your head? Why is this on the page?’ I just simply go where it takes me.”

Few parts from his blog on nybooks (source):
'“You’ll see when you grow old,” someone was always telling us when we were young. In the days before cash machines, when we had to run to our grandmothers for emergency funds, they made us sit and listen to a lecture first. They told us how the world had changed for the worst, how when they were young, boys called their fathers Sir, and girls from good homes had the modesty to blush when spoken to by boys. I would sit at the edge of my chair, nodding in agreement, waiting for grandma to click open her purse and hand over the money. Even then, I vaguely understood that grumbling about the young was one of the few satisfactions people have left in old age. I didn’t mind hearing about the calamities that befell members of our family who failed to listen to the sensible advice I was getting—and I would get all that I could put up with, until she started sighing and telling me how I’ll come to understand everything she was saying now when I reached her age. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Poor grandma, what a drag she was, though I have to admit today that she was right. With age, I do see things differently than I once did.

Recently a reviewer complained that my new book of poems is much too preoccupied with death. He appeared to suggest that I ought to be more upbeat, dispensing serene wisdom in the autumn of my life, instead of reminding readers every chance I get of their mortality. Just you wait, I said to myself, till you reach my age and start going to funerals of your friends. Nobody warns us about that when we are young, and even if they ever did, it goes in one ear and out the other."

I can agree with what he said about his creative process, I find myself saying the same things... And I also liked his take on Why he still writes poetry, something I can relate to - link.

Few of his poems:
The White Room

The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.

They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me--
And then didn't.

Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild

Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
Always more dark houses,
Hushed and abandoned.

There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The fear of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.

The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn't leave her room.

The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact.
The simplest things,

Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People described as "perfect."

Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins, a hand-mirror,
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn't it.

Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light--
And the trees waiting for the night.

 My Shoes

Shoes, secret face of my inner life:
Two gaping toothless mouths,
Two partly decomposed animal skins
Smelling of mice-nests.

My brother and sister who died at birth
Continuing their existence in you,
Guiding my life
Toward their incomprehensible innocence.

What use are books to me
When in you it is possible to read
The Gospel of my life on earth
And still beyond, of things to come?

I want to proclaim the religion
I have devised for your perfect humility
And the strange church I am building
With you as the altar.

Ascetic and maternal, you endure:
Kin to oxen, to Saints, to condemned men,
With your mute patience, forming
The only true likeness of myself.

 Against Winter

The truth is dark under your eyelids.
What are you going to do about it?
The birds are silent; there's no one to ask.
All day long you'll squint at the gray sky.
When the wind blows you'll shiver like straw.

A meek little lamb you grew your wool
Till they came after you with huge shears.
Flies hovered over open mouth,
Then they, too, flew off like the leaves,
The bare branches reached after them in vain.

Winter coming. Like the last heroic soldier
Of a defeated army, you'll stay at your post,
Head bared to the first snow flake.
Till a neighbor comes to yell at you,
You're crazier than the weather, Charlie.

A Book Full of Pictures

Father studied theology through the mail
And this was exam time.
Mother knitted. I sat quietly with a book
Full of pictures. Night fell.
My hands grew cold touching the faces
Of dead kings and queens.

There was a black raincoat
      in the upstairs bedroom
Swaying from the ceiling,
But what was it doing there?
Mother's long needles made quick crosses.
They were black
Like the inside of my head just then.

The pages I turned sounded like wings.
"The soul is a bird," he once said.
In my book full of pictures
A battle raged: lances and swords
Made a kind of wintry forest
With my heart spiked and bleeding in its branches.


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