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Surrealistically Speaking Simic

Webster's Dictionary defines surrealism as "the principles, ideals or practice of producing fantastic or incongruous imagery in art or literature by means of unnatural juxtapositions and combinations." So when newly named Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Charles Simic describes watermelons as "green buddhas on the fruit stand," saying "we eat the smile and spit out the teeth," the analogy lends itself to a rather strange comparison that is both humorous and dark—enlightened fruit and ourselves as cannibals.

Poet Laureate Charles Simic The sitting room in the Library of Congress Poetry Office

"His work is surreal and surprising, commonplace yet dreamlike. [It] has both shades of darkness and flashes of ironic humor," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

Simic is the Library's 15th poet laureate, succeeding Donald Hall. Interestingly enough, both currently reside in New Hampshire. Simic will be a featured at the Library of Congress National Book Festival Poetry Pavilion on Sept. 29 and will open the Library's literary season with a reading on Oct. 18.

Author of 18 books of poetry, Simic is also an essayist, translator, editor and professor emeritus of creative writing and literature at the University of New Hampshire, where he has taught for 34 years. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1990 for his book of prose poems "The World Doesn't End" (1989).

Born in Yugoslavia on May 9, 1938, Simic arrived in the United States in 1954. He has been a U.S. citizen for 36 years. More information on Simic and the laureateship background can be found in the official announcement.

The Library is home to the Poetry and Literature Center, which, in addition to sponsoring the laureateship, hosts numerous poetry readings and events throughout the year. The center itself was founded in the 1940s and has been almost exclusively supported since 1951 by a gift from the late Gertrude Clarke Whittall, who wanted to bring the appreciation of good literature to a larger audience.

In recent years, incumbents have taken it upon themselves to create programs and initiatives designed to spark enthusiasm for poetry. Former Poet Laureate Billy Collins developed the Poetry 180 Web site designed to offer a poem for each of the 180 school days. Perhaps he had foresight into Simic's relevance as a poetry guru when he included Simic's poem "The Partial Explanation," which is number 19 on the list.

A. Poet Laureate Charles Simic. Photographer: Philip Simic. Reproduction Information: Not available for reproduction.

B. The sitting room in the Library of Congress Poetry Office. Poetry and Literature Center. Reproduction Information: Not available for reproduction.