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In memory of Charles Simic: 1938 - 2023

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

Photo of Charles Simic courtesy fo City Arts Magazine

Charles Simic, a great Serbian-born American poet and essayist, died on Monday in New Hampshire at the age of 85. An immigrant child who did not speak English until the age of 15, Simic became the poet laureate of the United States and one of America's most beloved writers.

The winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for the book of poems "The World Doesn't End", as well as a number of other awards, was born in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia on May 9, 1938 as Dušan Simić. In 1954, he moved with his family to United States where they reunited with his father, an electrical engineer, who fled Yugoslavia to Italy in 1944 after several arrests and then to United States hoping his family would join him there. Simic would later remark: “My travel agents were Hitler and Stalin.”

Simic awed critics and readers with his singular blend of lyricism and economy, tragic insight and disruptive humor. His bleak, but comic perspective was shaped in part by his years growing up in wartime Yugoslavia. Writing in The New York Sun, the critic Adam Kirsch described the great writer’s influences: “He draws on the dark satire of Central Europe, the sensual rhapsody of Latin America, and the fraught juxtapositions of French Surrealism, to create a style like nothing else in American literature. Yet Mr. Simic’s verse remains recognizably American — not just in its grainy, hard-boiled textures, straight out of 1940s film noir, but in the very confidence of its eclecticism.”

Charles Simic published his first poems in 1959 in the Chicago Review. In the meantime, he published more than 30 collections of poetry including: Dismantling the Silence (1971), Return to the Place Lit by a Glass of Milk (1974), Charon's Cosmology (1977), Classical Ballroom Dances (1980), Austerities (1982), Unending Blues (1986), The World Does Not End: Prose Poems (1989), which received the Pulitzer Prize, The Book of Gods and Devils (1990), Hotel Insomnia (1992), Wedding in Hell (1994), Walking a Black Cat (1996), a finalist for the National Book Award, Jackstraws (1999), a New York Times Notable Book of the year , Night Picnic (2001), Selected Poems: 1963-2003 (2004), which received the International Griffin Poetry Prize; My Noiseless Entourage (2005), That Little Something (2008), The Master of Disguises (2010) and Scribbled in the Dark (2017). His most significant books of essays are: The Dome Store Alchemy (1993, 2008), The Unemployed Fortune-Teller (1999), The Metaphysician in the Dark (2003) among others.

While a guest of the publishing house "Arhipelag" in Belgrade in 2017, Simić told the audience that “the interest in the past is being lost today, and this is especially noticeable among young people, who are primarily engrossed in their mobile phones and social networks.” “General commercialization, the development of new technologies and the accelerated pace of life have a negative impact on education and culture”, said the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation award, the Frost Medal, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the PEN Translation Prize, among others.

Charles Simic was a regular contributor of critiques and essays to the New York Review of Books. He taught creative writing and literature at the University of New Hampshire for over 30 years.

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