Charles Simic

Image by Philip Simic

Charles Simic

b. 1938

A good-tasting homemade stew of angel and beast. - Charles Simic

In the Library

Charles Simic


Cameo Appearance

Charles Simic


The Clocks of the Dead

Charles Simic

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About Charles Simic

Charles Simic (b. 1938) grew up in Belgrade in former Yugoslavia, a childhood in which "Hitler and Stalin taught us the basics". A new life began in 1954 when he and his mother were allowed to join his father in the United States. Simic attended school in Chicago and then began working at the Chicago Sun Times. During this period he started to write and publish poetry and was a passionate self-educator, attending many night-classes. After two years national service in the US army, Simic settled in New York, got married and continued to write, his first collection appearing in 1967. In the intervening period he has published over sixty books, amongst them Charon's Cosmology, nominated for a National Book Award, The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Jackstraws which was included on the New York Times' shortlist of Notable Books of the Year. He taught English and creative writing for more than thirty years at the University of New Hampshire. In 2007, Charles Simic was appointed to be the United States Library of Congress's 15th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.

The critic, Helen Vendler, has described Simic as a "lover of food who has been instructed in starvation," hinting at the pleasures and privations which inform his work. As one of the "Bombed and fleeing humanity" ('Cameo Appearance') Simic was instilled from an early age with a deep distrust of absolutist thought. In defiance of ideology his poems brim with irreverence and scepticism, revelling in the "Juxtaposition of unlikely things...where one is bound to find an angel next to a pig." A serious surrealist, Simic draws us into a world in which a simple object like a fork can be transformed into nightmare. Unsettling encounters take place with the mad and the marginalised, often against a looming backdrop of darkness. Recurrent images - blood, flies, waiters, angels - hint at symbolism but without ever yielding one single interpretation. This uncertainty is at the heart of his vision which explores a universe of chance, "the world's raffle" ('Shelley'), in which either everything is planned...or nothing is.

Simic reads in a voice redolent of the history that haunts his poetry, an accent equal parts Serbian and New York twang. It embodies the rich tensions in his work, rooted both in the folklore traditions of Eastern Europe, yet at home amongst the wise-cracking rhythms of his adopted city.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 19 November 2003 in New York City and was produced by Jeffrey Wertz.

Charles Simic's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"Poetry tries to bridge the abyss lying between the name and the thing. That language is a problem is no news to poets." - Charles Simic

"No man whose sex life was satisfactory ever became a moral censor." - Mina Loy

"I'm in the business of translating what cannot be translated: being and its silence." - Charles Simic

"Even as I concentrate all my attention on the fly on the table, I glance fleetingly at myself." - Charles Simic

"Cioran is right when he says that we are all religious spirits without a religion." - Cioran

"A poem is an invitation to a voyage. As in life, we travel to see fresh sights." - Charles Simic

Additional material and useful links

Metaphysician of Doubt

A review of Charles Simic's first reading as U.S. poetry laureate.

Charles Simic

Talking with the new poet laureate

Charles Simic reads 1938

Video of Charles Simic reading "1938".

Interview with Charles Simic

An exclusive interview following Charles Simic's receipt of the 2011 Vilcek Prize in Literature.

Charles Simic recording Woodberry Poetry Room

Charles Simic recording, Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard.

Selected bibliography

Thomas Campion: Poems selected by Charles Simic, Faber...

New British Poetry (editor with Don Paterson), Graywolf...

The Best American Poetry 1992 (editor), Scribners, 1993

A Wake for the Living: poems of Radmila Lazic (...

The Little Box: poems of Vasko Popa (translator), The...

The Monster Loves his Labyrinth, Ausable Press, 2007

Memory Piano (prose), University of Michigan, 2006

That Little Something, Harcourt, 2007

My Noiseless Entourage, Harcourt, 2005


1970 PEN Award for Translation

Prize website

1972 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship

Prize website

1974 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

Prize website

1975 Academy of American Poets Edgar Allan Poe Award

Prize website

1976 The American Academy Award

1977 National Book Award - shortlist, Charon's Cosmology

Prize website

1979 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Charon's Cosmology

Prize website

1980 PEN Award for translation

Prize website

1980 University of Chicago's Harriet Monroe Award, Classic Ballroom Dances

Prize website

1980 Poetry Society of America - di Castagnola Award, Classic Ballroom Dances

Prize website

1982 Fulbright Fellowship

Prize website

1983 Ingram Merrill Foundation Fellowship

Prize website

1984 MacArthur Fellowship

Prize website

1990 Pulitzer Prize, The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems

Prize website

1996 National Book Award - shortlist, Walking the Black Cat

Prize website

1998 Academy of American Poets Fellowship

Prize website

1999 New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Jackstraws

Prize website

2000 Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

Prize website

2002 University of New Hampshire's Lindberg Award

Prize website

2002 Elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Prize website


Charles Simic

Charles Simic Reading from his poems

1Butcher Shop



4The Partial Explanation




8Folk Songs

9Country Fair

10The Clocks of the Dead


12Reading History

13Cameo Appearance


15At the Cookout

16Club Midnight

17Pastoral Harpsichord

18The Soul Has Many Brides

19Unmade Beds

20The One To Worry About

21Cherry Blossom Time

22The Altar

23My Father Attributed Immortality to Waiters

24Views from a Train

25Serving Time



28In the Library

29The Tiger

30Evening Walk

31The Old World


33The Tower

34Late Call

35Emily’s Theme

36The Friends of Heraclitus

Books by Charles Simic