Pulitzer Prize Poet Talks with GS Writers

Photograph: Poet Charles Simic takes a question from a student-writer in Lewisohn Hall.

Pulitzer-prize winning poet Charles Simic recently paid a visit to the Writing Program at the School of General Studies, where he was interviewed by four Columbia students: Jeffrey Encke (GSAS), Ai-Jen Poo (CC), Mary Ellen Ugactz (GS) and Joshua Green (visiting student at CC).

The two-hour interview, which took place in the Writers Room in Lewisohn, Jan. 28, followed the recent release of Simic's newest collection of poetry, A Wedding in Hell.

Simic, a professor of literature and poetry writing at the University of New Hampshire, spoke at length about his method of writing and translation and the influence of blues music and lyrics.

"My poetry evolved very slowly," he said, responding to a question about his early years as a poet. "I started as a painter. I used to paint from age 16 to 26. I wrote poems, too, at that time but I showed them only to people close to me."

When asked whether his poetry was consciously constructed or spontaneously conceived, Simic said, "Only when I was young did I have a very conscious moment when I would say 'Tonight I'm going to write poetry!'"

He referred to the many notebooks he's kept over the years as an "archaeology of long abandoned things that turn you on or they don't."

Simic, born in the former Yugoslavia, came to the U.S. in 1954 and became a citizen in 1970. He has had more than a dozen books of poetry and prose published. His book of poems, The World Doesn't End, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990.

One of several events to mark the Writers Club's 70th anniversary, the interview was organized by club president Mary Ellen Ugactz and Writing Program Director Alan Ziegler.

Excerpts from the interview will be published in the March issue of The Observer, the monthly magazine of the School of General Studies. The complete interview will follow in the Fall 1995 issue of Quarto,the literary magazine of the Writing Program.

Columbia University Record -- February 17, 1995 -- Vol. 20, No. 17