BELGRADE - If you are planning to attend this evening’s literary event put on by Charles Simic, you should come early as the venue is bound to fill up in no time. When Charles Simic, a great US poet of Serbian origin, was last in Serbia for the same occasion, the DKC hall was cram packed. This is rare sight nowadays in the cultural life of Belgrade and Serbia, as poetry readings are typically frequented by the same dozen admirers.
The popularity of Charles Simic is no latest fashion but rather a recognition to one of the most established authors of the highly-developed American poetry scene.
He has been the laureate of virtually every US literary award, from the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry to a Frost Medal. The latter award came only last month.
The cause of Simic’s visit to Belgrade is the release of his book "Iscekujuci presudu" (Arhipelag, 2011), which encloses an extensive selection of his work, complete with a number of entirely new poems.
However, Simic did not need a special occasion to come to Belgrade, the city where he grew up in and which has heavily influenced his themes when writing poetry. Speaking for Blic, Simic talks about his understanding of poetry, America and rebellion.
At your previous literary event in 2006 it was so crowded that it resembled a rock concert with all the energy there at the venue. Is this a common thing in the US, as it is hardly so here in Serbia?
- “It is, especially in smaller towns. If you visit universities and colleges in far off places in Nebraska, Oklahoma, there is nothing else to be seen there, and it is usually a big event for the locals. You can fill up the room and have 300 to 400 visitors. People there are used to coming to literary events and they know there will be something interesting there to see and hear. In major cities, however, the competition is more fierce and somewhere around 150 people turn up in New York, but it also depends where the reading takes place.”
On a similar not, some believe there is a crisis of poetry.
- “I am told the same thing. The same people say that back in the day everyone read poetry, but it is nonsense, because that was never the case. I think poetry was more present in schools and children were used to be made to learn poetry by heart. For me it is a ridiculous thing to make kids learn it by heart.”
You have mentioned New York, which is an almost mythical place for contemporary poets.
- “In America they don’t like New York. The USA is a country of small towns and deserts, and New York City itself has produced very few major poets, except for, of course, Walt Whitman.”
Is there a fear of poetry in America, especially in conservative circles?
- “Well, that is exactly what puritans are like. They not only hate poetry, they hate every other manifestation of art. The South is extremely religious and the Church is has a strong influence there. Yes, that does exist, but on the other hand, you have people who read everything, including poetry.”
Does this stance mean you are closer to rock and roll rebellion than to conventional art?
- “I believe that is true. This is why we have an audience because when those young people, who grew up with the rock and roll rebellion, recognise it in poetry, they become our audience. This is when we return to the poets of the beat generation, who got young people to read poetry. I belong to an older generation, but I remember a time in the 1960s when every young man who wanted to be cool had a book by Ginsberg or Ferlinghetti hanging out from their pockets. That was a sort of uniform, and that is why poets were no longer considered to be weird folks but rather had become part of our mainstream lives. The sixties did a great deal for poetry.”
Source: Blic News