This sample Charles Simic Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Charles Simic, the fifteenth poet laureate of the United States, is a native of Yugoslavia who immigrated to the United States during his teens, and has become a pillar of poetry in his adopted homeland. Simic’s poetry has won numerous prestigious awards, among them the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the coveted MacArthur Foundation ”genius grant.” Although he writes in English, Simic draws upon his own experiences of war-torn Belgrade to compose strikingly original poems about the physical and spiritual poverty of modern life.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
A Turbulent Youth
Charles Simic was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, on May 9, 1938. His early childhood coincided with World War ii, during which Yugoslavia was occupied by the Axis Powers (Nazi Germany and its allies). During the war, his family had to evacuate their home several times to escape indiscriminate bombing. After the war ended in 1945, the atmosphere of violence and desperation continued, and Simic recalls that the years from 1945 to 1948 were marked by hunger and deprivation. During this time, Simic’s father left the country for work in italy, and his mother tried several times to follow, only to be turned back by authorities. in the meantime, young Simic was growing up in Belgrade, where he was considered a below-average student and a minor troublemaker.
When Simic was fifteen, his mother finally arranged for the family to travel to Paris. After a year spent studying English in night school and attending French public schools during the day, Simic sailed for America. He moved with his family to Chicago, where he enrolled in high school. In that environment—a suburban school with caring teachers and motivated students—Simic began to take new interest in his courses, especially literature. The young Simic discovered jazz, as well as American poetry and folklore, and underwent a transformation in outlook that led to him becoming an international poet and a gifted multicultural spokesman.
Simic’s first poems were published in 1959, when he was twenty-one. Between that year and 1961, when he entered the U.S. Army, he wrote a number of poems, most of which he has since destroyed. He served in the U.S. Army until 1963, then pursued a college education at New York University, where he received his B.A. in 1966. Between 1966 and 1973, he worked as an editorial assistant for the photography magazine Aperture. Simic married Helene Dubin, a fashion designer, in 1965. In 1974, Simic began teaching at the University of New Hampshire, where he has been a professor of English for over thirty years.
Finding a Poetic Voice
Simic’s first full-length collection of poems, What the Grass Says, was published in 1967. In a very short time, Simic’s work—original poetry in English and translations of important Yugoslavian poets— began to attract critical attention. This first collection, as well as his other early works, including Somewhere Among Us a Stone Is Taking Notes (1969), Dismantling the Silence (1971), and Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk (1974), feature a number of “object” short poems such as ”Watch Repair,” ”Fork,” and ”Spoon”, which focus on everyday objects or images. In these works, Simic challenges the dividing line between the ordinary and extraordinary by giving life to inanimate objects, meditating upon their strangeness. In doing so, Simic associates many of these objects with war, violence, and tragedy, and their surrealism takes on a dark, bizarre edge. Although the poems were intensely surrealistic, they were nonetheless engaging to readers and critics alike.
Starting in the mid-1970s, Simic’s work moved in a new direction, focusing on a more complete consideration of self and the contradictory nature of modern life. His subjects began to break away from objects to more thorough considerations of people and urban life in the Harriet Monroe Prize for Poetry-winning collection Classic Ballroom Dances (1980), as well as Weather Forecast for Utopia and Vicinity (1983), Unending Blues (1986),and The Book of Gods and Devils (1990). Simic’s 1989 collection, The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems, won the Pulitzer Prize for its series of prose poems that present a struggle with the idea of personal and political history. In one poem of the collection, a child is stolen by gypsies, is taken right back by his parents, is stolen again by the gypsies, and so on until his head swims and he can no longer tell the difference between his two sets of mothers and fathers. In another, a family is so poor that the child must take the place of the bait in the mousetrap; in a third, the last Napoleonic soldier is still retreating from Moscow two hundred years after the French invasion in 1812, and passes German soldiers on
their way to the Russian front in World War II. The poems employ a wide range of historical and political allusions, as well as Simic’s trademark combination of ironic humor and dark subject matter. Childhood experiences of war, poverty, and hunger lie behind a number of these poems, and echo a concern that Simic’s work, throughout his career, has shared: the impact of war.
After earning the Pulitzer Prize, Simic continued to gain prominence in the literary community. Simic published several more books of poetry in the 1990s, including Hotel Insomnia (1992), A Wedding in Hell (1994), and Walking the Black Cat (1996), which was a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry. In 1999, Simic’s collection, Jackstraws, was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times. He has continued to write and publish poetry, and was awarded the esteemed Griffin Poetry Prize in 2005 for his 2004 collection, Selected Poems: 1963-2003. In August 2007, Simic, a naturalized citizen, was appointed to the distinguished position of poet laureate of the United States. Simic’s influence has been felt beyond poetry, as well. In addition to the publication of his memoirs, A Fly in the Soup (2000), Simic has published critical essays and translations of poetry from a number of different languages.
Works in Literary Context
Blending Realism with Surrealism
Simic’s work is difficult to categorize in terms of a single genre or literary tradition. He is often labeled a “surrealist” or “imagist” poet, but Simic’s self-exploration and his emphasis on real-world situations and issues challenges that categorization. Instead, one of the keys to Simic’s unique appeal is his ability to blend surrealist techniques with realist subjects. Surrealism was a twentieth-century cultural movement and response to rationalism. Surrealists believed in using the unconscious to produce art and literature that was more “real” than work produced self-consciously. Surrealist poetry is often characterized by the juxtaposition of unexpected images and dreamlike language. Simic drew upon the literary techniques of surrealism, including abstract language and images, surprising comparisons (often blending “light” images with dark and morbid associations), and absurdity to create his poetry. Yet, his subject matter— beyond his “object” poems—rarely conforms to surreal-ism. His enduring concern with historical and human issues resonates with the tradition of literary realism, which seeks to dramatize contemporary life in a real and authentic manner. Simic’s ability to draw upon these two literary traditions makes his work uniquely challenging, as well as singularly compelling.
Works in Critical Context
Simic is widely regarded as one of the most skillful poets of the twentieth century for both his technical abilities and the depth of his subjects. Critics also find Simic’s style particularly accessible, a substantial achievement for an author for whom English is a second language. Simic’s personal history and his displacement from his native country also enable him to approach his subjects and themes with a unique and enriching sensibility. As critic Brian C. Avery wrote, ”Despite the inescapable tragedy of our age, Simic has also discovered the value of the familiar to raise us above the incessant suffering inherent to any age.”
Dismantling the Silence
Simic’s 1971 collection was lauded by critics for its technical mastery and its innovative approach to the everyday. Critic Victor Contoski applauded the work and highlighted Simic’s simplistic style and masterful use of silence instead of sound. He wrote, ”[Simic] is a listener rather than a speaker, and a listener to the tiny voices of things.” Contoski further elaborated on the complexity of Simic’s approach to poetry, which resonates with the type of contradictions that make Simic one of the most unique poets of his time: ”Coupled with Simic’s simplicity is, paradoxically, a kind of artistocratic attitude toward his art, a combination that makes his work unique indeed.”
The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Simic’s collection, The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems, was not without controversy. Several critics and prominent members of the literary community felt that Simic’s choice to use the prose structure put the collection at odds with the poetry community that was honoring it. Yet, the majority of critics felt that the prose poem form was the most suitable for Simic’s subject matter. Critic Christopher Buckley defends the choice, writing, ”Simic chooses the prose poem for this book, as it best provides a form for the voice and material that go back to his essential poetic roots—the European or Eastern European folk tale.”
- Avery, Brian C. ”Unconcealed Truth: Charles Simic’s Unending Blues.” Charles Simic: Essays on the Poetry. Ed. Bruce Weigl. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996, pp. 73-95.
- Buckley, Christopher. ”Sounds That Could Have Been Singing: Charles Simic’s The World Doesn’t End.” Charles Simic: Essays on the Poetry. Ed. Bruce Weigl. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996, pp. 96-113.
- Lysaker, John T. You Must Change Your Life: Poetry, Philosophy, and the Birth of Sense. University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.
- Bond, Bruce. ”Immanent Distance: Silence and the Poetry of Charles Simic.” Mid-American Review 8, no. 1 (1988): 89-96.
- Contoski, Victor. ”At the Stone’s Heart: Charles Simic’s Dismantling the Silence. Modern Poetry Studies 2, no. 5 (1971): 236-0.
- Corbet, William. ”Charles Simic.” Poets & Writers Magazine 24. no. 3 (May-June 1996): 30(6).
- Hart, Henry. ”Charles Simic’s Dark Nights of the Soul.” Kenyon Review 27.3 (Summer 2005): 124(24).
- Heaney, Seamus. ”Shorts for Simic.” Harvard Review no. 13 (Fall 1997): 14-20.
- Reynolds, Susan Salter. ”A New Chapter in Verse.” Los Angeles Times (August 26, 2007): 12.
- Vendler, Helen. ”Totemic Sifting.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 18/19, nos. 1 and 2 (1993): 86-99.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.