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)
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
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
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