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Charles Simic: From Belgrade to Poet Laureate


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

JEFFREY BROWN: For 35 years, Charles Simic has lived in a house on Bow Lake in the town of Strafford, in southern New Hampshire. Here, Simic wrote numerous volumes of poetry, won a Pulitzer and other prizes. He's a prolific essayist and author of a delightful memoir of his youth.

In many ways, he fits the profile for a poet laureate, but there is at least one interesting twist...

Poet laureate is a long way to come for a kid who didn't really speak English until 15.

CHARLES SIMIC, Poet Laureate, United States: It's astonished me. I mean, when they called me and after I realized precisely what you were saying, that I ended up being a poet laureate to the United States, you know, starting in Belgrade, expecting that I would continue to live there for the rest of my life. But then lots of things happened, and...

JEFFREY BROWN: History happened, didn't it?

CHARLES SIMIC: History happened.

JEFFREY BROWN: Simic was a child when Germany bombed Yugoslavia in World War II. He remembers being thrown from his bed by a bomb that destroyed a nearby building. His earliest years saw occupation, civil war, and the beginnings of a Stalinist regime in his homeland.

Simic's father made his way to the U.S., but along with his mother, Simic and his younger brother were arrested trying to flee. It wasn't until 1954 that they were allowed to leave, first to Paris, and then with the help of a refugee aid agency, to the U.S. The family settled outside Chicago.

CHARLES SIMIC: I used to joke, I used to say, "Hitler and Stalin, it's thanks to them that I became an American poet."

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