Charles Simic

Charles Simic was born in Belgrade, Serbia, in 1938. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1953, and settled in New York in 1954. Simic published his first poems in 1959. Two years later he was drafted and served the U.S. army. He graduated from New York University in 1966. A year later he published his first volume of poetry, ‘What the Grass Says’. Simic has received many grants, including one from the Guggenheim Foundation, and has lectured at various universities. Since 1973 he has taught American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of New Hampshire. He writes essays as well as poems, and translated poetry from French, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian and Slovenian. He also works as an editor, and has written a children’s book, published in German as ‘Wo steckt Pepé?’ (Engl: Where’s Pepé?). Simic won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his volume of prose poems, which was published as ‘The World Doesn’t End’ in 1990.

Despite his European origins, Simic belongs with Mark Strand and James Tate to a generation of American poets who made their names in the 1960’s as surrealists. Since then Simic poems have evoked various settings and images, from New York City to small New England towns. His own biography, his emigration from a land devastated by several wars has had an impact on his poetry. “What is beautiful”, he writes in one poem, “is found accidentally and not sought after. What is beautiful is easily lost.”

Simic is the metaphysician of the ordinary, a poet who reminds us of the mystery of our daily lives. For him the absence of unambiguous events is an essential part of this experience. “Comedy says as much about the world as tragedy”, he writes in one of his essays. “In fact, if you seek true seriousness, you must take room for both comic and tragic vision.” Wit and poetry undergo a symbiosis in his work, for “like poetry, humour is subversive.” The origins of this “carnivalistic” experience of the world can be traced back to Simic’s autobiographical writings, which have also stuck a chord with critics. In ‘A Fly in the Soup’ the author recalls his early childhood in Belgrade. The unique, authentic flavour of the text stems from the juxtaposition of life-threatening wartime occurrences and a child’s love of adventure.

© international literature festival berlin