Charles Simic was born in former Yugoslavia on May 9, 1938. His childhood was complicated by the events of World War II. He moved to Paris with his mother when he was 15; a year later, they joined his father in New York and then moved to Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, where he graduated from the same high school as Ernest Hemingway. Simic attended the University of Chicago, working nights in an office at the Chicago Sun Times, but was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1961 and served until 1963. He earned his bachelor's degree from New York University in 1966. From 1966 to 1974 he wrote and translated poetry, and he also worked as an editorial assistant for Aperture, a photography magazine. He has been a U.S. citizen since 1971 and lives in Strafford, New Hampshire.
Simic is the author of more than 20 books of poetry. He is also an essayist, translator, editor, and professor emeritus of creative writing and literature at the University of New Hampshire, where taught for over 30 years. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990 for his book of prose poems The World Doesn't End (1989). His 1996 collection, Walking the Black Cat, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry. In 2005 he won the Griffin Prize for Selected Poems: 1963-2003 . Simic's latest book of poetry is The Lunatic (2015).
Simic held a MacArthur Fellowship from 1984-1989, and has also held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has received the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the PEN Translation Prize and awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000. On August 2, 2007, the same day he was appointed Poet Laureate, Simic received the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets for "outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry."
Simic's Advice "On Writing Poetry"
A few things to keep in mind while sitting down to write a poem:
- Don't tell the readers what they already know about life.
- Don't assume you're the only one in the world who suffers.
- Some of the greatest poems in the language are sonnets and poems not many lines longer than that, so don't overwrite.
- The use of images, similes and metaphors make poems concise. Close your eyes, and let your imagination tell you what to do.
- Say the words you are writing aloud and let your ear decide what word comes next.
- What you are writing down is a draft that will need additional tinkering, perhaps many months, and even years of tinkering.
- Remember, a poem is a time machine you are constructing, a vehicle that will allow someone to travel in their own mind, so don't be surprised if it takes a while to get all its engine parts properly working.
Books of poetry by Charles Simic
- What the Grass Says (1967)
- Somewhere among Us a Stone is Taking Notes (1969)
- Dismantling the Silence (1971)
- White (1972)
- Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk (1974)
- Biography and a Lament (1976)
- Charon's Cosmology (1977)
- Brooms: Selected Poems (1978)
- School for Dark Thoughts (1978)
- Classic Ballroom Dances (1980)
- Austerities (1982)
- Weather Forecast for Utopia and Vicinity (1983)
- Selected Poems, 1963-1983 (1985)
- Unending Blues (1986)
- Nine Poems (1989)
- The World Doesn't End (1989)
- The Book of Gods and Devils (1990)
- Hotel Insomnia, Harcourt (1992)
- A Wedding in Hell: Poems (1994)
- Frightening Toys (1995)
- Walking the Black Cat: Poems (1996)
- Jackstraws: Poems (1999)
- Selected Early Poems (2000)
- Night Picnic (2001)
- The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems (2003)
- Aunt Lettuce, I Want to Peek under Your Skirt (2005)
- My Noiseless Entourage (2005)
- 60 Poems (2008)
- That Little Something (2008)
- Master of Disguises (2010)
- New and Selected Poems: 1962-2012 (2013 The Lunatic (2015)
Translations by Charles Simic
- Ivan V. Lalic, Fire Gardens (1970)
- Vasko Popa, The Little Box: Poems (1970)
- Four Modern Yugoslav Poets: Ivan V. Lalic, Branko Miljkovic, Milorad Pavic, Ljubomir Simovic (1970)
- Vasko Popa, Homage to the Lame Wolf: Selected Poems (1979)
- (co-translator) Slavko Mihalic, Atlantis (1983)
- Tomaz Salamun, Selected Poems (1987)
- Ivan V. Lalic, Roll Call of Mirrors (1987)
- Aleksandar Ristovic, Some Other Wine or Light (1989)
- Stavko Janevski, Bandit Wind (1991)
- Novica Tadic, Night Mail: Selected Poems (1992)
- Horse Has Six Legs: Contemporary Serbian Poetry (1992)
- Aleksander Ristovic, Devil's Lunch (1999)
- Radmila Lazic, A Wake for the Living (2003)
- Gunter Grass, The Gunter Grass Reader (2004)
Books of Prose by Charles Simic
- The Uncertain Certainty: Interviews, Essays, and Notes on Poetry (1985)
- Wonderful Words, Silent Truth (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)
- The Metaphysician in the Dark (2003)
- The Renegade (2008)
- The Life of Images (2015)