Charles Simic

AP Photo/Richard Drew

Charles Simic

Poet Laureate Charles Simic Shares His Latest Book

That Little Something

Silence of Falling Snow,
Night vanishing without trace,
Only to return.
I’m your humble scribe.

-Charles Simic

UCSB Arts & Lectures and the UCSB Libraries are honored to present the 15th Poet Laureate of the United States, Charles Simic, as the 45th guest of the annual Eldwin and Jean Corle Memorial Lecture in Campbell Hall on Thursday, May 22, at 8 p.m. There, Simic will read from his recently released book of poems, That Little Something (Harcourt, 2008), and from 2007’s Sixty Poems. Harcourt describes the book as a treasured introduction to a writer “widely celebrated for his brilliant poetic imagery; his social, political, and moral alertness; his uncanny ability to make the ordinary extraordinary; and, not least, a sardonic humor :”

Born in Yugoslavia in 1938, Simic-who’s also an essayist and translator-has published 60 books of poems and won numerous awards, among them the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for his book of prose poems titled The World Doesn’t End, the 2005 International Griffin Poetry Prize for Selected Poems: 1963-2003, and this year the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. In an email exchange, I asked him how his heritage had influence his work. “I grew up during WWII in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Bombs fell on our head on and off for about four years,” he explained. “Buildings collapsing and neighbors lying dead in the rubble-that made a big impression on me.” In “A Book Full of Pictures” from Sixty Poems, he writes:

The pages I turned sounded like wings.
“The soul is a bird,” he [Father] once said.
In my book full of pictures
A battle raged: lances and swords
Made a kind of wintry forest
With my heart spiked and bleeding like branches.

In reading through his poetry, one gets the sense of bleak despair about the state of the world:

The Emperor must not be told night is coming.
His armies are chasing shadows,
Arresting whip-poor-wills and hermit thrushes
And setting towns and villages on fire:
The flowers in the garden have been forced to
stay open,
And still yet dark stains spread over the palace
Which no amount of scrubbing will wipe away.

(from The Lights Are On Everywhere)

Yet there is also hope reflected, specifically in the poem “Clouds”:

To those worried about the future,
You bring tidings,
Shapes that may recall things
Without ever shedding
Their troubling ambiguity.”

Addressing the subject of hope, Simic explained, “The innocents get slaughtered and the sunrises and sunsets continue to be beautiful. I don’t expect that to change.” In That Little Something, he writes about the poet Li-Young Lee’s quest to retrieve a pearl a woman has asked him to help her find. Simic described the pearl as representing “something beautiful [and] hopefully lost” that we keep searching for. In speaking about the role of a poet in today’s society, Simic replied that it was simply “to write poems.” He writes in “To the Reader”:

Bang your head
On your side of the wall
And keep me company.

Wild Poetry Arrives: Another exciting upcoming event is the annual “nature” poetry reading at the Wildling Museum in Los Olivos (2329 Jonata St.) on Sunday, June 1. There, Paul Willis will be reading from his debut full-length book, Visiting Home (Pecan Grove Press). His poetry is well-known for his intense observation of nature and keen sensitivity to its nuances. He is a professor of writing and literature at Westmont College and was chosen by Image Magazine as the Artist of the Month in April of this year. He will be joined by veteran poets Bettina Barrett, Michael Hannon, and Lois Klein. I also hope to see you at the next open mike on Thursday, June 5, at Good Cup Coffee (1819 Cliff Dr.) from 6:30-7:45 p.m.

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