Poetry News

Charles Simic Has a Secret and it Takes Place in Bed

By Harriet Staff

See this little essay in the New York Review of Books blog, in which Charles Simic lets us in on a secret that takes place between the sheets: his writing.

Here's a little teaser. Then make the jump.

All writers have some secret about the way they work. Mine is that I write in bed. Big deal!, you are probably thinking. Mark Twain, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Truman Capote, and plenty of other writers did too. Vladimir Nabokov even kept index cards under his pillow in case he couldn’t sleep some night and felt like working. However, I haven’t heard of other poets composing in bed—although what could be more natural than scribbling a love poem with a ballpoint pen on the back of one’s beloved? True, there was Edith Sitwell, who supposedly used to lie in a coffin in preparation for the far greater horror of facing the blank page. Robert Lowell wrote lying down on the floor, or so I read somewhere. I’ve done that, too, occasionally, but I prefer a mattress and strangely have never been tempted by a couch, a chaise longue, a rocker, or any other variety of comfortable chairs.

How did this all start? Well, it began even before Simic came across the following Breton line: "“Poetry is made in bed like love”. See:

This habit of working in bed had its beginning in my childhood. Like any other normal and healthy child, I often pretended to be sick on mornings when I hadn’t done my homework and my mother was already frantic about being late for work. I knew how to manipulate the thermometer she would insert in the pit of my arm and produce a high enough temperature to alarm her and make it mandatory that I skip school. “Stay in bed,” she would yell on her way out of the door. I obeyed her conscientiously, spending some of the happiest hours in my memory reading, daydreaming and napping till she returned home in the afternoon. Poor mother.

Originally Published: February 13th, 2012