The 1990 Pulitzer Prize winner The World Doesn’t End is the only prose poetry collection to date to win that prestigious award. At the time the outcry and protests of prosaic poets and stuffy reviewers could be heard everywhere. The controversy itself was the only reason I ordered the book.
Simic, even though he is hailed as one of America’s finest contemporary poets, may be virtually unknown to many of you. Born in 1938, he is a native of Yugoslavia who emigrated to America in his teens and currently teaches at the University of New Hampshire. For his poetry and literary translations (Vasko Popa and Slavko Janevski, among others) he has won awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Poetry Society of America and has received the Edgar Allan Award, the PEN Translation Prize, a Guggenheim Foundation Scholarship, and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He is best known as the creator of poetic fantasy.
Much of his writing reflects his family’s experiences in World-War II Europe and the frightening similarities of current events in Eastern Europe. As an exile, Simic believes that misfortune, loss, humor, and paradox are commonplace experiences for all men with war-torn homelands. His poems are fresh and startling and serendipitously mix pain and hope.
In The World Doesn’t End, a few poems read like translations, not a good thing, but most use language so precise, so bludgeoning, that my senses (of smell, sight, touch, etc.) are genuinely affected: “My wife is a wild fern with voluptuously trembling leaves” and “In the hush your heart sounds like a black cricket.” But his great feats, when he makes them, are not with language but intellect. When he tricks your mind into running with the narrator instead of the text. His last lines turn logic on its head and tell something absurd and unexpected. If you haven’t yet, be sure to read Simic. His poems can’t fail to both amuse and provoke you.