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Portland, Oregon

Charles Simic

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic shares poems from his accomplished career, at this 2007 Poetry Downtown event in Portland.

In this episode of The Archive Project, we feature Charles Simic from a Poetry Downtown event in 2007. Charles Simic was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1938, and some of his earliest memories are of German bombs falling on the city. Later the Russian army would arrive. In 1954, Simic was brought to the United States by his family and, at the age fifteen, he began to learn English.

It’s remarkable that nearly half a century later, Simic would be named Poet Laureate of the United States, the same year of this recording. Over the course of his career, Simic has won nearly every prize for poetry, including the Pulitzer, and has published essays, edited anthologies and translated poetry from French, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian, and Slovenian.

In this recording, Simic reads from work that spans his career, from his violent and also tender childhood, to his early life in Chicago and New York, and then later about New Hampshire where he taught for decades. One reviewer’s comments seem to sum up the experience of reading and hearing his work: “There are few poets writing in America today who share his lavish appetite for the bizarre, his inexhaustible repertoire of indelible characters and gestures… Simic is perhaps our most disquieting muse.”

And in the contrasts among his poems, as he leapfrogs around the decades, a strange resonance can be found with our world today, both here in the US and abroad, at this very strange and particular moment.


Charles Simic, poet, essayist, and translator, was born in Yugoslavia in 1938 and immigrated to the United States in 1954. Since 1967, he has published twenty books of his own poetry, in addition to a memoir; the essay collection The Life of Images; and numerous books of translations for which he has received many literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the Griffin Prize, the MacArthur Fellowship, and the Wallace Stevens Award. Simic is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and in 2007 was chosen as poet laureate of the United States. He is emeritus professor at the University of New Hampshire, where he has taught since 1973, and is distinguished visiting writer at New York University.

Paulann Petersen‘s collections of poetry include The Wild Awake (2002), Blood-Silk (2004), A Bride of Narrow Escape (2005), Kindle (2008), and The Voluptuary (2010). Her work has appeared widely in journals such as Prairie Schooner, Calyx, Poetry Northwest, and Poetry. A former Wallace Stegner fellow and recipient of two Carolyn Kizer Awards, Petersen has also received the Stewart Holbrook Award for Outstanding Contributions to Oregon’s Literary Life. She is on the board of the Friends of William Stafford, and helps organize events and celebrations of the poet across the country. In 2010, she was elected the state of Oregon’s sixth Poet Laureate.

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