‘Poetry shockingly stark in its concepts, imagery and language’ – the words of retired English professor Victor Contoski in the Chicago Review.
His words describe the work of Serbian-American poet Dusan ‘Charles’ Simic: a man born Belgrade at the start of the Second World War who immigrated to America as a teenager.
Simic’s experience of growing up in an environment where frequent bombings from the command of both Hitler and Stalin forced his family to evacuate has been the foundation of his poetry.
Watching them out of the corner of the eye,
The earth trembling, death going by . . .
(‘Two Dogs’ by Charles Simic)
Simic only started learning English during his mid-teens yet his passion for the language and the ability to express his ideas in a moving and imaginative way has lead him to become a renowned poet.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990 from his book of prose poetry ‘The World Doesn’t End’ (1989), Simic has also been the recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, the Wallace Stevens Award, and the PEN Translation Prize for his interpretation of the works of Serbian poet Vasko Popa in ‘Homage to the Lame Wolf’ (1979).
Simic was a past editor of The Paris Review has been named as the fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress.
On receiving this honour the man born in Serbia responded ‘I am especially touched and honored to be selected because I am an immigrant boy who didn’t speak English until I was 15’.
Having arrived in the US Simic attended school in Chicago and earned a degree from New York University after completing his draft in the US Army. He went on to become a Professor at the University of New Hampshire.
‘What the Grass Says’ was his first published collection of poems in 1967. One poem from that publication is Simic’s ‘Stone’:
Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.