How timely, my previous entry was just about a former poet laureate (Billy Collins--for 2 years in fact). Simic wrote an excellent essay in one of those Poets on Poetry books series, the title of which I cannot remember right now. But check out the article. Here's the text for those who may not be NY Times subscribers, for the link expires after a week.
August 2, 2007
Charles Simic, Surrealist With Dark View, Is Named Poet Laureate
By MOTOKO RICH, The New York Times
Charles Simic, a writer who juxtaposes dark imagery with ironic humor, is to be named the country’s 15th poet laureate by the Librarian of Congress today.
Mr. Simic, 69, was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and immigrated to the United States at 16. He started writing poetry in English only a few years after learning the language and has published more than 20 volumes of poetry, as well as essay collections, translations and a memoir.
A retired professor of American literature and creative writing at the University of New Hampshire, he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1990 and held a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant from 1984 to 1989.
He succeeds Donald Hall, a fellow New Englander, who has been poet laureate for the past year.
James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, will announce Mr. Simic’s appointment. Mr. Billington said he chose Mr. Simic from a short list of 15 poets because of “the rather stunning and original quality of his poetry,” adding: “He’s very hard to describe, and that’s a great tribute to him. His poems have a sequence that you encounter in dreams, and therefore they have a reality that does not correspond to the reality that we perceive with our eyes and ears.”
Mr. Simic, speaking by telephone from his home in Strafford, N.H., described himself as a “city poet” because he has “lived in cities all of my life, except for the last 35 years.” Before settling into academia, he held a number of jobs in New York, including bookkeeping, bookselling and shirt sales. He originally wanted to be a painter, he said, until “I realized that I had no talent.”
He started writing poems while in high school in Chicago, in part, he said, to impress girls. He published his first poems in The Chicago Review when he was 21.
Mr. Simic said his chief poetic preoccupation has been history. “I’m sort of the product of history; Hitler and Stalin were my travel agents,” he said. “If they weren’t around, I probably would have stayed on the same street where I was born. My family, like millions of others, had to pack up and go, so that has always interested me tremendously: human tragedy and human vileness and stupidity.”
Yet he balks at questions about the role of poetry in culture. “That reminds me so much of the way the young Communists in the days of Stalin at big party congresses would ask, ‘What is the role of the writer?’ ” he said.
Mr. Simic said he preferred to think of the point of poetry in the way a student at a school in El Paso put it when he visited in 1972: “to remind people of their own humanity.”
Reviewing his collection “The Voice at 3:00 A.M.” (Harcourt) for The New York Times Book Review in 2003, David Orr said Mr. Simic was “a surrealist with a purpose: the disconcerting shifts and sinister imagery that characterize his work are always intended to suggest — however obliquely — the existential questions that trouble our day-to-day lives.”
Mr. Billington said he admired Mr. Simic’s work because it was “both accessible and deep,” adding that “the lines are memorable.” He referred to a stanza from “My Turn to Confess,” a poem from Mr. Simic’s 2005 collection, “My Noiseless Entourage,” also published by Harcourt:
A dog trying to write a poem on why he barks,
That’s me, dear reader!
They were about to kick me out of the library
But I warned them,
My master is invisible and all-powerful.
Still, they kept dragging me out by my tail.
The post of poet laureate has existed since 1987, although there were 27 consultants in poetry to the Library of Congress before that. Laureates receive a $35,000 award and a $5,000 travel allowance.
The position does not come with any specific responsibilities, although previous laureates have used the platform in different ways. Robert Pinsky, who held the post from 1997 to 2000, initiated a Favorite Poem Project, inviting poetry fans to share their favorites in readings captured on tape and video. Billy Collins, laureate from 2001 to 2003, began Poetry 180 (loc.gov/poetry/180), a Web site where high school classes can access a poem of the day. Mr. Hall joined Andrew Motion, the British poet laureate, for a trans-Atlantic reading program sponsored by the Poetry Foundation.
Mr. Simic said he had not yet figured out what he would do. In the meantime he continues to write for The New York Review of Books and is a poetry editor of The Paris Review. He has a new collection, “That Little Something,” due from Harcourt in February 2008.