The InitiateHere is some biographical information from The Academy of American Poets:
St. John of the Cross wore dark glasses
As he passed me on the street.
St. Theresa of Avila, beautiful and grave,
Turned her back on me.
"Soulmate," they hissed. "It's high time."
I was a blind child, a wind-up toy . . .
I was one of death's juggling red balls
On a certain street corner
Where they peddle things out of suitcases.
The city like a huge cinema
With lights dimmed.
The performance already started.
So many blurred faces in a complicated plot.
The great secret which kept eluding me: knowing who I am . . .
The Redeemer and the Virgin,
Their eyes wide open in the empty church
Where the killer came to hide himself . . .
The new snow on the sidewalk bore footprints
That could have been made by bare feet.
Some unknown penitent guiding me.
In truth, I didn't know where I was going.
My feet were frozen,
My stomach growled.
Four young hoods blocking my way.
Three deadpan, one smiling crazily.
I let them have my black raincoat.
Thinking constantly of the Divine Love
and the Absolute had disfigured me.
People mistook me for someone else.
I heard voices after me calling out unknown names.
"I'm searching for someone to sell my soul to,"
The drunk who followed me whispered,
While appraising me from head to foot.
At the address I had been given.
The building had large X's over its windows.
I knocked but no one came to open.
By and by a black girl joined me on the steps.
She banged at the door till her fist hurt.
Her name was Alma, a propitious sign.
She knew someone who solved life's riddles
In a voice of an ancient Sumerian queen.
We had a long talk about that
While shivering and stamping our wet feet.
It was necessary to stay calm, I explained,
Even with the earth trembling,
And to continue to watch oneself
As if one were a complete stranger.
Once in Chicago, for instance,
I caught sight of a man in a shaving mirror
Who had my naked shoulders and face,
But whose eyes terrified me!
Two hard staring, all-knowing eyes!
After we parted, the night, the cold, and the endless walking
Brought on a kind of ecstasy.
I went as if pursued, trying to warm myself.
There was the East River; there was the Hudson.
Their waters shone like oil in sanctuary lamps.
Something supreme was occurring
For which there will never be any words.
The sky was full of racing clouds and tall buildings,
Whirling and whirling silently.
In that whole city you could hear a pin drop.
I thought I heard a pin drop and I went looking for it.*****
Here come my night thoughts
Returning from studying the heavens.
What they thought about
Stayed the same,
Stayed immense and incomprehensible.
My mother and father smile at each other
Knowingly above the mantel.
The cat sleeps on, the dog
Growls in his sleep.
The stove is cold and so is the bed.
Now there are only these crutches
To contend with.
Go ahead and laugh, while I raise one
Swaying on the front porch,
While pointing at something
In the gray distance.
You see nothing, eh?
Neither do I, Mr. Milkman.
I better hit you once or twice over the head
With this fine old prop,
So you don't go off muttering
I saw something!*****
The White Room
The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.
They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me--
And then didn't.
Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild
Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
Always more dark houses,
Hushed and abandoned.
There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The fear of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.
The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn't leave her room.
The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact.
The simplest things,
Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People described as "perfect."
Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins, a hand-mirror,
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn't it.
Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light--
And the trees waiting for the night.*****
I have only recently started reading Simic in any detail. For reasons that escape me, I had written him off as not very interesting. I was wrong. As the quote above might suggest, Simic is not especially fond of confessional poetry. He tends toward ideas in his own work, big ideas that he can convey in scenes and images.
Charles Simic was born on May 9, 1938, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he had a traumatic childhood during World War II. In 1953 he emigrated from Yugoslavia with his mother and brother to join his father in the United States. They lived in and around Chicago until 1958.
His first poems were published in 1959, when he was twenty-one. In 1961 he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and in 1966 he earned his Bachelor's degree from New York University while working at night to cover the costs of tuition.
His first full-length collection of poems, What the Grass Says, was published the following year. Since then he has published more than sixty books in the U.S. and abroad, among them My Noiseless Entourage (Harcourt, 2005); Selected Poems: 1963-2003 (2004), for which he received the 2005 International Griffin Poetry Prize; The Voice at 3:00 AM: Selected Late and New Poems (2003); Night Picnic (2001); The Book of Gods and Devils (2000); Jackstraws (1999), which was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times; Walking the Black Cat (1996), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; A Wedding in Hell (1994); Hotel Insomnia (1992); The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems (1990), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Selected Poems: 1963-1983 (1990); and Unending Blues (1986).
Simic has also published many translations of French, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, and Slovenian poetry, and several books of essays, including Orphan Factory. He has also edited numerous anthologies, including an edition of The Best American Poetry in 1992.
In his essay "Poetry and Experience," Simic wrote:At least since Emerson and Whitman, there's a cult of experience in American poetry. Our poets, when one comes right down to it, are always saying: This is what happened to me. This is what I saw and felt. Truth, they never get tired of reiterating, is not something that already exists in the world, but something that needs to be rediscovered almost daily.
Elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets in 2000, his many awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was also elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1995.
Since 1973 he has lived in New Hampshire, where he is Professor of English at the University of New Hampshire.
Here are a couple of more poems:
Clouds GatheringCharles Simic on the web:
It seemed the kind of life we wanted.
Wild strawberries and cream in the morning.
Sunlight in every room.
The two of us walking by the sea naked.
Some evenings, however, we found ourselves
Unsure of what comes next.
Like tragic actors in a theater on fire,
With birds circling over our heads,
The dark pines strangely still,
Each rock we stepped on bloodied by the sunset.
We were back on our terrace sipping wine.
Why always this hint of an unhappy ending?
Clouds of almost human appearance
Gathering on the horizon, but the rest lovely
With the air so mild and the sea untroubled.
The night suddenly upon us, a starless night.
You lighting a candle, carrying it naked
Into our bedroom and blowing it out quickly.
The dark pines and grasses strangely still.*****
The Supreme Moment
As an ant is powerless
Against a raised boot,
And only has an instant
To have a bright idea or two.
The black boot so polished,
He can see himself
Reflected in it, distorted,
Perhaps made larger
Into a huge monster ant
Shaking his arms and legs
The boot may be hesitating,
Demurring, having misgivings,
Yes, and apparently no.*****
It isn't the body
That's a stranger.
It's someone else.
We poke the same
At the world.
When I scratch
He scratches too.
There are women
Who claim to have held him.
Follows me about.
It might be his.
If I'm quiet, he's quieter.
So I forget him.
Yet, as I bend down
To tie my shoelaces,
He's standing up.
We caste a single shadow.
I'd like to say:
"He was un the beginning
And he'll be in the end,"
But one can't be sure.
As I sit
Shuffling the cards of our silence,
I say to him:
"Though you utter
Every one of my words,
You are a stranger.
It's time you spoke."*****
Academy of American Poets
Famous Poets and Poems
The Cortland Review (Australia) has an interview
Our Scandal, an essay deploring the insularity of American writers
Simic reviews the unpublished poems of Elizabeth Bishop