Charlie Simic was adopted from New Hampshire and came here 50 years ago, but remains a citizen of the world as a poet, literary critic and commentator. He lived with his wife Helen Rubin in the Blue Saltbox near Bow Lake in Strafford, but at Durham State University thousands of literary and creative students shared his worldview and writing. shared faith in His words.
When he died Monday at the age of 84, he left behind a rich pile of poetry, memoirs, literary criticism and political commentary. This work earned him the MacArthur Genius Grant in 1984, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990, and the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2007.
As editor and self-proclaimed poet of Concord Monitor, I have become a loyal reader of Charlie’s work. I interviewed him for the first time shortly after his Pulitzer Prize was announced. On the drive home in early spring, the rain had blackened the mostly bare branches, and the bleak sky foretold even more winter. The message didn’t say anything about the day’s specials.
That day Charlie told me the story of his life. Born in Belgrade, Serbia in 1938, he immigrated to the United States after World War II and the communist takeover of Yugoslavia. His memories of these experiences shaped his poetic vision of the Legion.
As a boy during the war, he played in the streets of Belgrade. There, Yugoslav partisans hung suspected traitors from telegraph poles, while American bombardiers dumped the remaining bombs. “Our children at an early age were abandoned by themselves,” he said. That’s what I was talking about. “I was thrown out of bed and thrown across the room,” he said.
Yugoslavia has a population of 16 million, of whom over 1.7 million died in World War II and the violent civil war that followed. As a young boy who knows nothing else about the world, Charlie lived the days of destruction and death as an epic adventure. , he thought, “Oh, it’s not going to be fun anymore.”
Charlie’s father, an engineer employed by an American company, and Charlie’s mother, a teacher, escape Yugoslavia with their children after years of starvation, deprivation, and living in hiding. They lived briefly in Paris before coming to the United States in 1953. Charlie attended the University of Chicago and New York University.
Charlie found his way into poetry during these events when he visited Yugoslavia in his mid-thirties. Seeing the streets, his homes, the places that haunted him in his youth brought scenes to life, and those senses of absurdity came together. “When I was there, I found it crazy. This seven-year-old was walking around there.”
“Old Soldier” is one of many poems that reflect his childhood experiences. It begins with a mundane scrap of childhood memory and deepens as it progresses.
By the time I turned 5
I have fought hundreds of times,
and suffered many injuries
Just get up and fight again.
After the bombing, the sky was full
Of flying cinders and birds.
my mother took my hand
and took me to the garden
Where the cherry blossoms were blooming.
There was a cat grooming
I wanted to pull someone’s tail
But if I leave her alone for a while,
because i was busy with flies
with a cardboard sword.
All I needed was a horse to ride.
Like something hooked up to a hearse,
Outside the pile of rubble,
I’m waiting with my head down
May they finish loading the coffin.
I spoke with Charlie again after he was named Poet Laureate of the United States. The first thing he said was how proud he was of being the second foreign-born poet to be in his position. The first was Soviet dissident Joseph Brodsky. “Fifty-three years ago, I was a kid off a ship and adrift in the New World,” he thought.
At the time, a nationally known poet lived in New Hampshire.with the help of monitor And, thanks to dedicated volunteers at the Concord City Auditorium, I planned and moderated a regular poetry program. To commemorate Charlie being elected Poet Laureate of the United States, I put together a program called “Poets Three.” Readers were Charlie and his two other living poets laureates in the state, Maxine Min and Don Hall. They each began reading aloud with Charlie’s poem.
Max, a fierce critic of war in his life and work, read one of Charlie’s anti-war poems. Don has lived through many health scares, but at age 79, he seemed to have found his old groove on the mic. was sitting in I saw him scribble a note to himself.
When it was Mike’s turn, he told the audience that the first time he heard Don read his poems, he realized he was a 20-year-old undergraduate at New York University. Did. That old night, Robert Bly introduced Don and Louis Simpson. “All three of them were wearing ties and looked stylish,” Charlie told the audience.
A poem Charlie read that night seemed to epitomize his work. It showed his bright side, his absurd tendencies, the extent of his imagination, and his characteristic touch of darkness. , people often asked if they thought he was a confessional poet. Charlie’s self-portrait in “My Turn to Confess” answered this question once and for all.
A dog trying to make a poem about why it barks
Dear readers, that’s me!
they were trying to kick me out of the library
But I warned them.
My master is invisible and omnipotent.
Yet they continued to drag my tail out.
In the park, the birds openly shared their troubles.
I saw an old lady on the bench
cut white curly hair with imaginary scissors
Staring at a small pocket mirror.
I said nothing then,
But that night I lay crouched on the floor.
bite a pencil,
With an occasional sigh,
The growl is also something there
I couldn’t make a name for myself.
Now the three poets are gone. Maxine Cumin died in 2014, Don Hall in 2018 and Charlie this week. For lovers of great poetry, their life’s work continues.
(Former newspaper editor Mike Pryde is an author and historian. His most recent book is No Place for a Woman: Harriet Dame’s Civil War.)