Charles Simic wins 2014 Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award

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Drawing: Zoran Tucić (1999)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, Charles Simic was named winner of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award during a ceremony at the Teatr Polski in Warsaw. Simic is only the second recipient of this prize; the first was awarded last year to W.S. Merwin.

According to a report on the University of New Hampshire Web site, Simic said, “What a good piece of news to receive first thing in the morning and how wonderful that it comes from a country that has given the world so many great poets, many of whom, like Zbigniew Herbert, have meant so much to me. I first read his poems in Czesław Miłosz’s translations in 1965 and two years later met him in New York, and afterwards a couple of more times in United States and in Europe. Although I was much younger, having grown up during the Second World in Yugoslavia and having lived there under communism for another ten years, his own life story and his own poems did not feel foreign to me. Their added attraction was that they dealt with the experiences of those violent years and with the moral and philosophical questions they gave rise to, and did so in poems that were extraordinarily clear, while managing to be at the same time both serious and funny.”

The prize–which bestows a “Laureateship” upon the winner–was chosen by “a seven member international Jury, composed of poets, essayists, translators and publishers”: Lidija Dimkovska (Macedonia/Slovenia), Edward Hirsch (USA), Michael Krüger (Germany), Jarosław Mikołajewski (Poland), Agneta Pleijel (Sweden), Jaume Vallcorba Plana (Spain) and Tomas Venclova (Lithuania/USA).

Simic, who wrote this piece about Herbert for The New York Review of Books in 2007, won the Pulitzer in 1990 for a book of prose poems, The World Doesn’t End, widely considered a masterpiece of the medium. He as also been a finalist for the National Book Award and is a distinguished essayist and translator. He has published more than sixty books, in which he has specialized, as Edward Hirsch says, ” in tragicomedy. Like Zbigniew Herbert, he has a keen historical awareness, a sardonic sense of humor, and a powerful consciousness of human tragedy. He speaks out against human venality. His way of attacking a poem has inspired poets world-wide. He also inspires readers because he reminds people of their humanity.”

Some selections:

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