It’s the birthday of poet Charles Simic (books by this author), born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, which is now Serbia (1938). His childhood was dominated by World War II and the Nazi invasion. His father was repeatedly arrested and thrown in jail, finally fleeing to Italy. Simic didn’t see his father again for nearly a decade, until the family reunited in Chicago in the United States in 1954.
Life in Belgrade during and after the war was harsh, but Simic found bright spots. He says, “We had poverty, Communist indoctrination, but also a few American movies, and jazz music on the Armed Forces Radio.” American noir movies, in particular, would influence his later poetry. His favorite films were The Asphalt Jungle and The Naked City. He settled for a year in Paris with his mother and brother while their visas were being sorted out. His thick accent made school difficult, but Paris is also where he discovered poetry by Verlaine and Rimbaud and where his mother fed his fantasies about America by bringing home Life and Look magazines. Simic and his brother devoured the glossy photos of cars, girls in bathing suits, and rock musicians.
Charles Simic wrote the first poem he knew was good and wanted to keep while he was living in New York City, where he worked odd jobs like house painting and selling dress shirts in clothing shops. The poem was The Butcher Shop. He says: “I wrote it in 1963, when I was living on East Thirteenth Street. In those days, there were still Polish and Italian butcher shops in that part of town with wonderful displays of sausages, pig knuckles, slaughtered lambs and chickens. I never in my life went past a butcher shop like that without stopping to take a close look. Of course, it reminded me of Europe, of my childhood. I slaughtered chickens when I was a boy, saw pigs have their throats slit and then be butchered afterwards.”
Charles Simic’s books include Hotel Insomnia (1992), The Monster Loves His Labyrinth (2012), New and Selected Poems (2013), and The Lunatic (2015).
Simic said: “I write to annoy God, to make Death laugh. I write because I can’t get it right. I write because I want every woman in the world to fall in love with me.”
When asked how one should prepare for a life in poetry, Charles Simic answered: “There’s no preparation for poetry. Four years of grave digging with a nice volume of poetry or a book of philosophy in one’s pocket would serve as well as any university.”