“Is Charles Simic afraid of death? / Yes, Charles Simic fears death. / Do you pray to the Lord up there? / No, play with his wife. » This is how Simic talked to himself in the poem ‘Night Contest’ (Come closer and listen, Broken Glass, 2020). A poignant and often self-parodying comedy that became his hallmark and made him stand out from his peers. In Vaso Roto he published most of his books in Spanish.
Charles Simic, who died early Sunday to Monday at the age of 84, was born in Belgrade in 1938. At the age of 16, he emigrated to the United States after a long family journey marked by the Yugoslav conflict: his father, a political exile, fled to Italy in 1944 and was imprisoned before making his way to the United States; Simic, his mother and his brother were detained by the communist authorities in Yugoslavia, arrived in Paris in 1953 and, a year later, in New York.
His childhood memories during the war, his experience in exile and his second life as a migrant marked all his work, both poetic and prose, but always with that unmistakable black humor that is the backbone of what is now a legacy. He wrote his memoirs in ‘A fly in the soup’, which appeared in Spain in 2013. And he also collected the texts from his notebooks, poems, meditations, chronicles and aphorisms, in ‘The monster loves his labyrinth’ (Broken Glass, 2015). “Her heritage, beyond the literary, is a life lesson. Modest and seemingly informal, Charles Simic’s poetry was always endowed with a touch of puzzlement at life’s anomalies. A singular way of approaching the human being with which he revolutionized contemporary poetry”, said his faithful editors of Vaso Roto.
Permanent candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Jordi Doce in the prologue to ‘Scribbling in the dark’: «it would be said that all Simic’s poems are the same, the celebration of a nocturnal world that survives in an unstable balance, a phantasmagoria full of pictorial and cinematographic keys on which the bird of black humor flutters, that buzzing irony that allows the most extravagant stories to be told as if nothing had happened».
“I have written poems on invoice envelopes, on restaurant menus, on scraps of paper and in cheap notebooks,” Simic told Nuria Azancot from ‘El Cultural’
He received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990 for ‘The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems’; he was the Griffin Poetry Prize (2005); Wallace Stevens Prize (2007) and Poet Laureate of the United States Library of Congress (2008) signed around thirty collections of poems, he used to alternate how prose and verse are seen, essays, translations, and memoirs, such as the quoted ‘A fly in the ointment’.
Irreverent and ironic, fond of deserted platforms, the porch of a country house and hotels at midnight, in 2020 he told Nuria Azancot for ‘El Cultural’: “I write almost every day, and generally in bed. Other than that, I don’t complicate my life. I have written poems on bill envelopes, on restaurant menus, on scraps of paper, and in cheap notebooks. But give me a desk with views of the Mediterranean, a Mont Blanc fountain pen, and expensive stationery, and I won’t lift a finger.”
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Irreverent Poet Charles Simic, 1990 Nobel Nominee and Pulitzer Prize Nominee, Dies