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