August 2, 2007

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new Poet Laureate

Charles Simic
(Photo courtesy the New York Times.)

And it's Charles Simic, as a matter of fact, a Serbian-American who's also a former Chicagoan, and who currently lives in New Hampshire and holds the title of Co-Poetry Editor at The Paris Review (along with Meghan O'Rourke). The recipient of both the Pulitzer prize and a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," the 69-year-old Surrealist is considered a daring choice for Poet Laureate by many experts, not the least of which is because of him doing things in the past like describing the act of writing as "Words make love on the page like flies in the summer heat and the poet is only the bemused spectator." A native of Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia, Simic and his family emigrated to Oak Park when he was 15 (which for those who don't know is the western Chicago suburb that both Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway called home at certain points too); he started writing poetry in high school both as a way to more quickly learn English and in an attempt to get laid a little more. (Seriously, the prospect of sex cannot be overemphasized enough when it comes to the origin of so many poets' careers.)

Anyway, for those who would like to know more: here is an article about the news in the New York Times; here is Simic's Wikipedia entry; and here is a page of sample work (text, audio and video) put together by the people who award the annual Griffin Prize in poetry (which yes, Simic has also won in the past). By the way, curious as to what the US Poet Laureate actually does, and how the position came about in the first place? Well, it's basically based on the British honorary of the same name, and is a paid position maintained by the Library of Congress; the job has been around since 1937, in fact (originally created as part of Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" Depression-recovery program), although until 1986 was officially known as "Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress" (which, yes, means that Robert Frost technically was never Poet Laureate during the Kennedy administration, but rather a governmental consultant). Poet Laureates officially receive US$35,000 a year (18000 pounds, 25000 euros), and their official job duty is to "serve as the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans;" so in other words, to get interviewed a zillion freaking times each year during National Poetry Month by a series of lazy local morning talk shows, then be completely ignored the other eleven months a year. Hey, just like every other poet out there!

Anyway, my congratulations to Simic for receiving this honor; and by the way, when will we be seeing you on the Simpsons?

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:50 AM, August 2, 2007. Filed under: Arts news | Literature |