Charles Simic and Naomi Replansky wrote poems in which every day objects opened connections to monumental historic tragedies.
Simic, the Serbian-born poet who learned English in a Chicago-area high school as a 15-year-old, translated European surrealism into the American idiom.
The former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner died Monday at age 84 at an assisted care facility in Dover, N.H., from complications of dementia.
Like Simic, Replansky captured the startling images of foreign poetry in American language. Replansky, who died at age 104 Saturday at her home in Manhattan, echoed the surrealism of Latin American writing, a difficult feat, as admirer Philip Levine noted.
Replansky also went against the grain of American poetry by her use of rhyme and meter. In an excellent obituary examining Replansky's undervalued career, New York Times writer Margalit Fox effectively illustrated Replansky's technique by giving examples of her poetry.
In one poem cited by Fox, Replansky recalls eating with a spoon when she heard about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The poem contrasts her personal anguish with the immense suffering of the Japanese city at the end of World War II.
Unlike the prolific Simic, Replansky published only three collections of her work. She also held a variety of jobs, including a stint as a "stewardess" on a ship making an ocean voyage.
Fox says the Bronx native, who lived for a number of years in California before returning to New York City, was discouraged by a negative review from Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The beat icon objected to her use of rhyme. Fox's examples of Replansky's work show that he was woefully misguided and that she revitalized traditional techniques.
In his outstanding New York Times obituary of Simic, the newspaper's literary critic Dwight Garner traced the poet and critic's rise from World War II-ravaged Yugoslavia to a place at the center of American literary culture. The U.S. poet laureate from 2007 to 2008, Simic won the Pulitizer Prize in 1990 for his prose-poem collection, "The World Doesn't End."
As Garner noted, Simic remained haunted by his childhood in war-torn Serbia, where he witnessed first-hand Nazi atrocities. In poems beginning with every-day experiences, he shifted to recollections of his harrowing past, mixing horror with black humor. In later life, Simic more frequently wrote about the pleasures of food, love and daily experiences.
Like William Carlos Williams, Simic wrote deceptively simple poems that seemed easy to imitate. Yet he was unique in his droll use of imagery in which common objects gained magical qualities.
Simic's death immediately followed that of another major American writer, poet and novelist Russell Banks. Noted editor and poet Daniel Halpern confirmed both men's deaths.
The passing of writers like Simic, Replansky and Banks brings sorrow mixed with gratitude that their work endures.
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