UCSB students and community members were treated to quite the epic literary event when Charles Simic graced Campbell Hall with an engaging performance that was organized by Arts & Lectures on Thursday, May 22. Simic is the 15th Poet Laureate of the United States, and has also won a Pulitzer Prize, among other prestigious awards, for his poetry and essays. The poet discussed his illustrious career and his latest work, That Little Something, a collection of poems.
After walking on stage, with a soft-spoken, husky voice with a hint of a Yugoslavian accent, Simic began to reminisce about his first time coming to Santa Barbara 35 years ago. The artist shared an assortment of selected poems from various periods of his literary career to recite and exuded a lighthearted, amusing and irrepressibly witty tone as he talked about everything from love, encyclopedias, horror movies and planetariums. Before reading his poems aloud, he offered commentary and insight about his personal experiences, the inspiration behind the poetry and usually told entertaining anecdotes in relation to the poems.
The first poem Simic shared was called “Shelley,” named after the famous 19th-century British Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. What’s so instantly riveting and stirring about Simic’s poetry is the sense of immediacy and accessibility, as he speaks of commonplace, ordinary things with a realistic, conversational language that people can relate to. Also interesting is the way Simic juxtaposes this simplicity with a sense of the extraordinary, as well as his evocative, romantic descriptions and imaginative landscapes. A perfect example of this paradigm is the poem “Factory,” a fantastical poem infused with the humor and irony that pervades most of his work.
Another poem Simic recited was “In the Library,” which also read very intimately and personally, and revealed Simic to be a perceptive observer with a whimsical, child-like sense of humor. A personal favorite, judging by the audience reaction, was “My Beloved,” which Simic wrote as a way to explore new ways of describing love, as he alluded to his struggles of capturing beauty and love in an original, unusual way. With this poem, he used more vulgar language and it seemed to be a parody of traditional love poems, but was still highly innovative and entertaining. Other poems Simic recited included “That Little Something,” “To Dreams,” “Ghost,” “Unmade Beds,” “Crazy About Her Shrimp,” “Mummy Curses” and “Empires,” all of which possessed that mesmerizing, otherworldly quality that makes Charles Simic so singularly fascinating.
Simic ended the night beautifully with his recitation of “In the Planetarium,” a poem in which he muses on the absurdity of the concepts of planetariums, and says to his lover, “‘Let’s get the fuck out of here,'” to which she responds, “‘I have never seen anything more beautiful’ / With tears in her eyes.”
Simic’s ability to evoke emotions so sensually and inventively, paired with his insightful, provocative perspective on seemingly ordinary things, explain why his talents have been so celebrated and esteemed: Namely, because all the hype is actually true.