Former United States Poet Laureate Charles Simic will be at Purdue Thursday as the featured writer for the 80th Annual Literary Awards Celebration.
Simic was born in 1938 in Belgrade, Serbia, known as Yugoslavia at the time, and spent his youth in the turmoil of a city ravaged by World War II. It was not until 1954 that Simic and his family immigrated to New York City, a surrounding that Simic says he draws as much inspiration from as he does from his homeland.
Aside from being the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2007 to 2008, Simic was also the first person to ever receive the Pulitzer Prize for a book of prose poems, which he was awarded in 1990 for "The World Doesn't End." Amongst his long list of achievements and awards are the MacArthur Fellowship, the International Griffin Poetry Prize, the Wallace Stevens Award and, most recently, the Frost Medal.
Simic is not only renowned for his poetry but also for his skills as an essayist, memoirist and accomplished translator. He has translated the works of famous Yugoslavian authors, such as Ivan Lalic, Vasko Popa, Tomaz Salamun and Aleksandar Ristovic.
"I learned more from translations than from teaching literature for over 40 years. It's the closest possible reading one can do of an individual poem where one learns about different ways in which poems can be made, or as an old Russian critic said, ‘the way the coat was stitched,'" Simic said.
In his poetry, Simic draws deeply from his upbringing in a city torn through by World War II. In Simic's commencement speech to the Bucknell graduating class of 2008, he said that "roaming the streets of the half-destroyed city with my friends was all the education I needed."
Lines such as ‘I'm told but do not believe that that summer I witnessed men hung from telephone poles' from his acclaimed poem "Prodigy" masterfully relay the day-to-day strife that Simic and his family endured through the worst years.
At the same time, a poem such as "Charles Simic" playfully breaks down a man by comparing him, humorously and light-heartedly, to a structured sentence.
"He's really a very vibrant poet and has a wide audience. People like his poetry, respond to his poetry," Don Platt, a professor in the English department, said about why the department chose to invite Simic. "He's done a great service to the language and this is what great poets can do. He's changed our sensibilities and taken poetry in a new direction."
Simic will be speaking at a number of events surrounding Thursday's awards. Before the winning students are awarded for the works submitted, Simic will hold a colloquium from 3 to 3:45 p.m. in the Hicks Undergraduate Library's Bookstall and give a brief speech about the craft of writing at the Awards Banquet that starts at 5:30 p.m. in the North Ballroom of the Union. As the final event of the night, he will give a free poetry reading at 8 p.m. in Fowler Hall.