William & Mary

Simic reads Pulitzer Prize-winning verse

“When you meet the poet and listen to him read it, it helps you understand it,” according to Henry Hart, the College’s Mildred and J.B. Hickman Professor of English and Humanities. Hart was introducing poet Charles Simic as part of the Patrick Hayes Writers Series at the College. On Nov. 8, Simic read a selection of his poetry while a standing-room-only crowd listened in the Tucker Theatre.

Simic spent the first half of the evening reading selections of his poetry from his almost four-decades-long career. Each of the 15 poems he read and explained were ripe with imagery and examined the meaning of events and objects familiar to everyone. The poems dealt with subjects ranging from New Hampshire to insects, but a common strain throughout was an attention to detail, hidden meaning and a sense of humor.

Simic and some of his contemporaries have been described as surrealists or as being of the deep-image school. However, Simic argued that categorization of style is not a conscious decision on the part of a poet and those like him but stems from critics’ interpretations of the poets. “What solidifies you as a group is that you’re attacked together,” he said.

For the second half of his talk, Simic answered questions from students, faculty and community members about his poetic style and offered advice to young writers. A sense of humor and candor pervaded the question-and-answer session. When one audience member asked how Simic overcomes writer’s block, he simply answered, “I don’t write.” He also elaborated on his subjects and choices within his poems.
“Sometimes I get obsessed with a certain thing. … I’m not confessional or biographical, but sometimes I get obsessed with my early life,” said Simic, who emphasized, however, that the most important aspect about poetry was the language.

Born in Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia in 1938, Simic immigrated to New York City in the 1950s. He began writing poetry soon after coming to America and pursued a degree at New York University after a stint in the Army. He currently teaches in the English department at the University of New Hampshire. Simic has won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

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