Vasko Popa, Selected Poems (1969)
Translated by Anne Pennington, introduction by Ted Hughes
Vasko Popa (Serbian Cyrillic: Васко Попа) (June 29, 1922 – January 5, 1991) was a Yugoslav poet of Romanian descent.
Popa was born in the village of Grebenac, Vojvodina, Serbia. After finishing high school, he enrolled as a student of The Faculty of Philosophy at the Belgrade University. He continued his studies at the University of Bucharest and in Vienna. During World War II, he fought as a partisan and was imprisoned in a German concentration camp in Bečkerek (today Zrenjanin, Serbia).
After the war, in 1949, Popa graduated from the Romanic group of Faculty of Philosophy at Belgrade University. He published his first poems in the magazines Književne novine (Literary Magazine) and daily Borba (Struggle).
From 1954 until 1979 he was the editor of the publishing house Nolit. In 1953 he published his first major verse collection, Kora (Bark). His other important work included Nepočin-polje (Field of No Rest, 1956), Sporedno nebo (Secondary Heaven, 1968), Uspravna zemlja (Earth Erect, 1972), Vučja so (Wolf’s Salt. 1975), and Od zlata jabuka (The Golden Apple, 1978), an anthology of Serbian folk literature. His Collected Poems, 1943–76, a compilation in English translation, appeared in 1978, with an introduction by the British poet Ted Hughes.
On May 29, 1972 Vasko Popa founded “The Literary Municipality Vršac” and originated a library of postcards, called Slobodno lišće (Free Leaves). In the same year, he was elected to become a member of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
Vasko Popa is one of the founders of Vojvodina Academy of Sciences and Arts, established on December 14, 1979 in Novi Sad. He is the first laureate of the Branko’s award (Brankova nagrada) for poetry, established in the honour of the poet Branko Radičević. In the year 1957 Popa received another award for poetry, Zmaj’s Award (Zmajeva nagrada), which honours the poet Jovan Jovanović Zmaj. In 1968 Popa received the Austrian state award for European literature. In 1976 he received the Branko Miljković poetry award, in 1978 the Yugoslav state AVNOJ Award, and in 1983 the literary award Skender Kulenović.
In 1995, the town of Vršac established a poetry award named after Vasko Popa. It is awarded annually for the best book of poetry published in Serbian language. The award ceremony is held on the day of Popa’s birthday, 29 June.
Vasko Popa died on January 5, 1991 in Belgrade and is buried in the Aisle of the Deserving Citizens in Belgrade’s New Cemetery.
Vasko Popa wrote in a succinct modernist style that owed more to French surrealism and Serbian folk traditions than to the Socialist Realism that dominated Eastern European literature after World War II. He created a unique poetic language that combines a modern form with old, oral folk traditions of Serbia – epic poems, stories, myths, riddles, etc. In his work, earthly and legendary mix, the myths come to surface from the collective subconscious, the inheritance and everyday are in constant interplay.
Since his first book of verse, Kora, Vasko Popa has gained steadily in stature and popularity. His poetic achievement – eight volumes of verse written over a period of thirty-eight years – has received extensive critical acclaim both in his native land and beyond. He is one of the most translated Serbian poets
* Kora (Bark), 1953
* Nepočin polje (Field of No Rest),1965
* Sporedno nebo (Secondary Heaven), 1968
* Uspravna zemlja (Earth Erect) 1972
* Vučja so (Wolf’s Salt), 1975
* Kuća nasred druma (Home in the Middle of the Road), 1975
* Živo meso (Raw Meat), 1975
* Rez (The Cut), 1981
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! —and you, García Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?
I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?
Allen Ginsberg-Collected Poems 1947-1997-Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2007)
Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.
After Making Love We Hear Footsteps
For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.
In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.
Galway Kinnell-A New Selected Poems-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2001)
Sohei Nishino, “Diorama Map Berlin” (2012) (All images courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery)
by John Ashbery
The passionate are immobilized.
The case-hardened undulate over walls
of the library, in more or less expressive poses.
The equinox again, not knowing
whether to put the car in reverse
or slam on the brakes at the entrance
to the little alley. Seasons belong
to others than us. Our work keeps us
up late nights; there is no more joy
or sorrow than in what work gives.
A little boy thought the raven on the bluff
was a winged instrument; there is so little
that gives and says it gives. Others
felt themselves ostracized by the moon.
The pure joy of daily living became impacted
with the blood of fate and battles.
There’s no turning back the man says,
the one waiting to take tickets at the top
of the gangplank. Still, in the past
we could always wait a little. Indeed,
we are waiting now. That’s what happens.
by John Ashbery
What the bad news was
became apparent too late
for us to do anything good about it.
I was offered no urgent dreaming,
didn’t need a name or anything.
Everything was taken care of.
In the medium-size city of my awareness
voles are building colossi.
The blue room is over there.
He put out no feelers.
The day was all as one to him.
Some days he never leaves his room
and those are the best days,
There were morose gardens farther down the slope,
anthills that looked like they belonged there.
The sausages were undercooked,
the wine too cold, the bread molten.
Who said to bring sweaters?
The climate’s not that dependable.
The Atlantic crawled slowly to the left
pinning a message on the unbound golden hair of sleeping maidens,
a ruse for next time,
where fire and water are rampant in the streets,
the gate closed—no visitors today
or any evident heartbeat.
I got rid of the book of fairy tales,
pawned my old car, bought a ticket to the funhouse,
found myself back here at six o’clock,
pondering “possible side effects.”
There was no harm in loving then,
no certain good either. But love was loving servants
or bosses. No straight road issuing from it.
Leaves around the door are penciled losses.
Twenty years to fix it.
Asters bloom one way or another.
A crumbling reminder of communism
Translated by Joanne Turnbull
(from Glas 39)
From outside there came a soft knock at the door: once. Pause. And again – a bit louder and bonier: twice.
Thus far Sutulin had been only puzzled. Now his puzzlement was gradually overtaken by another feeling, strong and disturbing. He stood up and tried to pace from corner to corner, but the corners of this living cage were too close together: a walk amounted to almost nothing but turns, from toe to heel and back again. Sutulin stopped short, sat down and, closing his eyes, gave himself up to thoughts, which began: Why not…? What if…? Suppose…? To his left, not three feet away from his ear, someone was driving an iron spike into the wall. The hammer kept slipping, banging and aiming, it seemed, at Sutulin’s head. Rubbing his temples, he opened his eyes: the black tube lay in the middle of the narrow table, which had managed somehow to insinuate itself between the bed, the windowsill and the wall. Sutulin tore away the leaden seal, and the cap span off in a spiral. From out of the round aperture came a bitterish gingery smell. The smell made his nostrils flare pleasantly.
Two voices began in a whisper. Then by degrees of sonority – from piano to mf, from mf to fff – they cut into Sutulin’s sleep.
On his way home from the office, Sutulin paused in front of the window of a furniture dealer: the long curve of a couch, a round extendable table… it would be nice – but how could he carry them in past the eyes and the questions? They would guess, they couldn’t help but guess…
Towards dusk the next evening, having served out his day, Sutulin was approaching the door to his room: he did not quicken his step and, upon entering, felt neither consternation nor horror. When the dim, sixteen candle-power bulb lit up somewhere in the distance beneath the long low vault, its yellow rays struggling to reach the dark, ever-receding corners of the vast and dead, yet empty barrack, which only recently, before Quadraturin, had been a cramped but cozy, warm and lived-in cubbyhole, he walked resignedly towards the yellow square of the window, now diminished by perspective; he tried to count his steps. From there, from a bed squeezed pitifully and fearfully in the corner by the window, he stared dully and wearily through deep-boring pain at the swaying shadows nestled against the floorboards, and at the smooth low overhang of the ceiling. “So, something forces its way out of a tube, and can’t stop squaring: a square squared, a square of squares squared. I’ve got to think faster than it: if I don’t outthink it, it will outgrow me and…” And suddenly someone was hammering on the door, “Citizen Sutulin, are you in there?”
He waited until their steps had died away, then quickly dressed and went out. They’d be back, to remeasure or check they hadn’t under-measured or whatever. He could finish thinking better here – from crossroad to crossroad. Towards night a wind came up: it rattled the bare frozen branches on the trees, shook the shadows loose, droned in the wires and beat against walls, as if trying to knock them down. Hiding the needle-like pain in his temples from the wind’s buffets, Sutulin went on, now diving into the shadows, now plunging into the lamplight. Suddenly, through the wind’s rough thrusts, something softly and tenderly brushed against his elbow. He turned round. Beneath feathers batting against a black brim, a familiar face with provocatively half-closed eyes. And barely audible through the moaning air: “You know you know me. And you look right past me. You ought to bow. That’s it.”