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Former U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic named USM 2013 O’Brien Poet

PORTLAND, Maine – Charles Simic, a former U.S. poet laureate, has been named the 2013 O’Brien Poet by the University of Southern Maine (USM) and will read from his works at 5 p.m., Friday, November 1, in the University Events Room of USM’s Glickman Family Library, 314 Forest Ave., Portland.

The reading is free and open to the public, though seating is limited. For more information, contact Justin Tussing at or by phone at 207-228-8393. There will be a question and answer period after the reading, and Simic will be available to sign his books.

Simic, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, is one of the most celebrated poets of his generation, according to Justin Tussing, USM associate professor of English and interim director of USM’s Stonecoast Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.

“We are delighted that Charles Simic has accepted the annual O’Brien award and will be coming to USM,” Tussing said. “Simic's poems make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. His work reminds me of Quay Brothers animation and Tom Waits songs.

“His visit presents a rare opportunity for the Portland community to hear an internationally recognized artist at the height of his career,” Tussing continued.

Katherine E. O’Brien, for whom the award is named, was a Deering High School math teacher who bequeathed money to the University of Maine System, a part of which was designated for USM’s Libraries to purchase volumes of poetry and establish the annual O’Brien Poetry Lecture.

O’Brien’s papers, documenting her own poetry writing, are housed in Special Collections in the Glickman Family Library. This annual event is sponsored by USM Libraries and the USM Department of English.

Simic is the author of more than 60 books of poems, translations and essays. Among his many awards and recognitions, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 and also has received the Robert Frost Medal, a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” the Griffin International Poetry Prize, the Wallace Stevens Award, the PEN Translation Prize and the Vilcek Prize for the Arts and Humanities.

The poet was born in 1938, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he suffered a traumatic childhood during World War II. In 1954, he emigrated with his family to the U.S. and lived in Chicago. He published his first poems in 1959, when he was 21 years old. After being drafted into the U.S. Army, he earned his bachelor’s degree from New York University and began publishing regularly. He was named poet laureate in 2007.

Simic is emeritus professor at the University of New Hampshire, where he has taught since 1973.

Writing in The New York Times “Sunday Book Review,” poet Katha Pollit noted that Simic’s 19th poetry collection, titled “That Little Something,” continued to chart the esteemed poet’s “estrangement from place, from the present moment.”

A reviewer at the Harvard Review described Simic this way: “There are few poets writing in America today who share his lavish appetite for the bizarre, his inexhaustible repertoire of indelible characters and gestures … Simic is perhaps our most disquieting muse.”

Discussing his own creative process, Simic has said: “When you start putting words on the page, an associative process takes over. And, all of a sudden, there are surprises. All of a sudden you say to yourself, ‘My God, how did this come into your head? Why is this on the page?’ I just simply go where it takes me.”

For more information, see USM LibrariesUSM Department of English, and USM College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.