Poetry News

Charles Simic: Pencil for the Win

By Harriet Staff
Charles Simic

Charles Simic tells a tale for the NYR Daily about a poet who writes with—wait for it—a pencil. "Who is this idiot? You are probably thinking. It’s me, of course." No! More:

Since poets, if they are honest, rarely know where their poems come from or remember how exactly they were put together, they are forced to concoct explanations out of their biography, literary jargon, and psychobabble in the air to please their audiences. They didn’t always have to do that. Nobody asked T.S. Eliot or Robert Frost such questions. I recall a famous poet in my youth, sitting in a chair surrounded by kneeling students who watched him in total absorption as he cleaned his nails with a toothpick, thoroughly and in complete silence.


When my mother was very old and in a nursing home, she surprised me one day toward the end of her life by asking me if I still wrote poetry. When I confessed to her that I still did, she stared at me dumbfounded. I had to repeat what I said, till she sighed and rolled her eyes, probably thinking to herself, This son of mine has always had a screw loose. It made me recall how, when I was young, she used to tell our neighbors how her no-good son is always scribbling something in secret. She’d try to peek over my shoulder—other members of the family did, too—so I’d crawl into bed and cover my head. When they asked me what I was doing there, she’d relate, I kept quiet or shouted, Nothing! Once, she searched my bed when I was in school and found a stub of a pencil under my pillow. The other times she looked, there was nothing there at all.

I have no memory of anything like that and no idea of what she was talking about.


In an age of computers and smartphones when pencils are becoming extinct, be sure to be kind and considerate should you happen to come across a stub dropped in some public library or a butcher’s shop condemned to be shut down...

Well, you can read more about this right here.

Originally Published: December 7th, 2017