Essay: Composition Project

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¶ … Charles Simic told his elderly mother that he still wrote poetry, he claimed, "she sighed and shook her head, probably thinking to herself this son of mine has always been a little nuts," (Simic, the New York Review of Books). Simic also claims that his motivation for starting to write poetry was frivolous: to meet girls in school. He states, "I was just another high school kid who wrote poems in order to impress girls, but with no other ambition beyond that." It seems hard to believe that Simic is not joking and yet he simply traces his development as a poet who wanted to meet girls, to a poet with a sophisticated sensibility. Simic credits his exposure to literature's greats, especially French literature, "which left a deeper impact on me than I realized when I was young," (Simic). However, Simic's poetic instincts certainly run deeper than that, too. Poetry has to come from somewhere deep within the poet's soul, born out of the pain endemic to the human experience. For Simic, that pain was centered in his childhood in Belgrade. It is difficult for Simic to speak about his childhood during wartime Belgrade using prose, as he barely refers to his youth when reflecting on why he became a poet for the New York Review of Books. That is precisely why Simic became a poet: because the best way for him to express himself was not through any other medium.

Poetry was a deep personal choice for Simic, and it was also an inevitability. He was born in Belgrade on May 9, 1938, when Serbia was part of Yugoslavia. This was in the midst of World War Two. His childhood has been described as "traumatic," ("Charles Simic"). In 1954, Charles, his brother, and his mother moved to the United States to reunite with his father who was already there in Chicago. His parents' marriage fell apart soon thereafter, precipitating Charles' leaving Chicago for New York in 1958. By 1959, Charles Simic was a published poet.

Simic's work as a whole is dark. It reflects the chaos of a fragmented childhood, and buried memories of a war torn hometown. Embedded in Simic's poems are also images of alienation and social isolation, as the immigrant experience had a clear impact on the poet and his family. The poem "Solitude" in particular captures the themes of alienation and isolation, related especially to the immigrant experience as well as to the dissolution of family and community.

The title of "Solitude" alone is sufficient to divulge its content. The poem describes lonely life in an urban center, and likely refers to when the young Charles left Chicago for New York after his parents split up. He speaks of "the only home you ever had," which could refer to his first home in a small flat "no bigger than a matchbox." Yet it would not matter if the home were as big or "as vast as the sky full of stars," because the narrator feels like "the sole tenant." The loneliness is pervasive to the extent that the narrator, who speaks in second person singular, says you will be "grateful for a fleabite to scratch."

Simic's biography offers clues to his personal experience with social isolation and alienation in the midst of change. As his career started to take off, he traveled a lot, and always alone. Given that the poet's rate of pay is low, he notes that his living accommodations were varied, rarely luxurious, and often strange. " I stayed in highway motels, student dormitories, children's rooms in people's homes, and creepy old mansions used as faculty clubs during the day, where I would be the lone guest for the night having to contend with their ghosts," (Cimic, "A Poet on the Road"). Ironically, the theme of "being on the road" is central to the American identity and culture. As an immigrant, Simic was assimilating into American society much better than he might have thought at the time.

During his tour around the country, Simic would encounter the diversity of the American cultural landscape. He met other immigrants who, like himself, reflected the experience of alienation and isolation. For example, Simic meets an old Chinese man and bonds with him on the issue of poetry. "… [END OF PREVIEW]

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