Charles Simic

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Charles Simic (SIH-mihk) edited, with Mark Strand, Another Republic (1976), an influential anthology that provided many American readers with an introduction to contemporary poetry in Europe and Latin America. Simic also edited The Essential Campion (1988), a selection of the lyrics of Thomas Campion. His essay collections include The Uncertain Certainty: Interviews, Essays, and Notes on Poetry (1985); Wonderful Words, Silent Truth: Essays on Poetry and a Memoir (1990), The Unemployed Fortune-Teller: Essays and Memoirs (1994), and Orphan Factory: Essays and Memoirs (1997). A Fly in the Soup: Memoirs (2000) focuses on Simic’s childhood. The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks (2008), an assemblage of fleeting but related images and thoughts, offers insight into the poet’s life and poetic practice. The Renegade: Writings on Poetry and a Few Other Things (2009) collects sixteen previously published essays on other writers, including Walt Whitman, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Elizabeth Bishop. Simic is also a prolific translator of poetry from eastern Europe.


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Among Charles Simic’s many awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship (1972-1973), grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (1974-1975, 1979-1980), the Edgar Allan Poe Award (1975), an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award (1976), and PEN International Awards for Translation (1970, 1980). In 1984, he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, which he held until 1989. His book of prose poems, The World Doesn’t End, received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1990. In 1993, he was the recipient of the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award for This Horse Has Six Legs: An Anthology of Serbian Poetry, published in 1992. He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1995. Walking the Black Cat was a finalist for the National Book Award, and Jackstraws was named a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times. He was granted an Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1998 and served as chancellor of that organization from 2000 to 2002. He won the Griffin Poetry Prize (2005) for Selected Poems, 1963-2003 and the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets (2007). He served as poet laureate consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress from 2007 to 2008.


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Hart, Kevin. “Writing Things: Literary Property in Heidegger and Simic.” New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 21 (Autumn, 1989): 199-214. Especially useful for readers wishing to explore the relationship between Simic’s poetry and the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Citing examples from Simic’s poems, Hart extensively explores Simic’s affinity with Heidegger’s phenomenological philosophy.

Nash, Susan Smith. Review of Walking the Black Cat. World Literature Today 71, no. 4 (Autumn, 1997): 793-794. This is an enthusiastic appraisal that views this collection as a cohesive and focused expression of Simic’s major themes.

Orlich, Ileana. “The Poet on a Roll: Charles Simic’s ’The Tomb of Stéphane Mallarmé.’” Centennial Review 36, no. 2 (Spring, 1992): 413-428. Orlich examines Simic’s relationship to the Surrealists, and in particular the role of chance, through a close reading of a key poem. Orlich considers the poem to be an aesthetic manifesto.

Simic, Charles. “Charles Simic in Conversation with Michael Hulse.” Interview by Michael Hulse. In Seven American Poets in Conversation: John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Anthony Hecht, Donald Justice, Charles Simic, W. D. Snodgrass, Richard Wilbur, edited by Peter Dale, Philip Hoy, and J. D. McClatchy. London: Between the Lines, 2008. Simic discusses his life, his works, and the influences on his poetry.

_______. Interview by Molly McQuade. Publishers Weekly 234 (November 2, 1990): 56-57. This lively interview focuses on Simic’s origins as a poet and on the autobiographical basis of The Book of Gods and Devils.

_______. The Uncertain Certainty: Interviews, Essays, and Notes on Poetry . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,...

(This entire section contains 489 words.)

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1985. This volume collects much of what Simic has said about poetic theory and practice. Of these interviews and essays, particularly noteworthy are the interview with Sherod Santos, in which Simic discusses the genesis and development of his work, and Simic’s essay “Negative Capability and Its Children,” in which he explores John Keats’s notion of the poet as “capable of being in uncertainties.”The Uncertain Certainty is an invaluable aid to understanding not only Simic’s work but also the nature of poetry itself.

Stitt, Peter. “Charles Simic: Poetry in a Time of Madness.” In Uncertainty and Plenitude: Five Contemporary Poets. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997. Though Simic’s imagery suggests a Surrealist orientation, he is essentially a realist who reflects his Eastern European heritage. A close reading of several poems establishes the archetypal nature of Simic’s speakers and the displacement of the poet’s own ego.

Vendler, Helen. “A World of Foreboding: Charles Simic.” In Soul Says: On Recent Poetry. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995. Focusing on Hotel Insomnia, Vendler provides a comprehensive overview of Simic’s themes and methods. She charts a “master list” of key words that run through this collection. Astute analysis by a major critic.

Weigl, Bruce. Charles Simic: Essays on the Poetry. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Traces the critical reception of Simic’s poetry across a quarter century, in an effort to delineate Simic’s aesthetic. Bibliography.


Critical Essays