Published: December 29th, 2014
Charles Simic, a Serbian-American, was the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 2007 and recipient of the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Simic also co-edited for poetry in the Paris Review. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer for both 1986 and 1987 and earned a MacArthur Fellowship for 1984-1989.
Howl: What kind of writing environment do you prefer and why?
Simic: My own bed. Like Mark Twain and Robert Lowell, I write lying down.
Howl: Do you ever have any distractions that get in the way of your writing and what do you do about them?
Simic: I prefer peace and quiet, but the sound of the traffic in the city or my wife vacuuming in the country doesn’t bother me.
Howl: Why do you think that some particular aspects of your own life make for better poetic inspiration?
Simic: It makes no difference to me. Every day is fine if I feel like writing.
Howl: In your youth, did you envision yourself similar to where you are now?
Simic: In my youth I had no idea what would happen to me or gave it much thought.
Howl: Why do you feel that poetry is your creative medium of choice?
Simic: It wasn’t a choice. When you fall in love with something, it’s not because you chose to.
Howl: What advice would you have for budding writers?
Simic: Become passionate readers of literature.
Howl: Poetry can bend, or even sometimes break, the rules of conventional English. So how do you edit your work?
Simic: When a painter works on a painting he or she doesn’t think about the history of art. The same with us poets, we write drafts after drafts and tinker with no clear idea what will come out of it.
Howl: What do you like to do in your free time?
Simic: Take long walks and hang out with friends.
Howl: When you were a poetry editor for The Paris Review, what in particular did you look for in publishable work?
Simic: A poem unlike any I have read before that I kept thinking about long after I read it.
Howl: As one who has translated literature into different languages, do you feel that there is a particular language better suited to particular styles of literature or themes than others? If not, what do you think it says of language that it has been able to capture such variety over such a diversity of cultures?
Simic: Sometimes there’s a word in one language so wonderful and so precise that it doesn’t have an equal in another, but that’s true of all languages.