Vasko Popa is a poet of towering stature in contemporary Yugoslav literature. 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, in Europe and the United States. His works, have been widely translated, and have reached a remarkably diverse audience. His eight collections have been translated into English in their entirety, in different editions, by Anne Pennington in Great Britain and distinguished poet Charles Simic in the United States. Additionally, his collections have given rise to extensive critical analyses, including several books devoted exclusively to his poetry.
Popa was born in the village of Grebenac, Vojvodina, Serbia on June 29th, 1922. After finishing high school, he enrolled as a student at the University of Belgrade majoring in Philosophy. 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 BeÄkerek (today Zrenjanin, Serbia). After the war, in 1949, Popa graduated from the Romanic group of the Faculty of Philosophy at Belgrade University. He published his first poems in the magazines "Literary Magazine" and the daily "Struggle" (Borba).
In 1953 he published his first major verse collection, Bark (Kora). Following work includes: No-Rest Field, 1956; Secondary Heaven, 1968; Earth Erect, 1972; Wolf Salt, 1975; Apple of Gold, 1978; etc. His Collected Poems, 1943-1976, 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 Vrshac and originated a library of postcards, called Free Leaves (Slobodno liÅ¡Ä‡e). In the same year, he was elected to become a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Vasko Popa died on January 5, 1991 in Belgrade and is buried in the Aisle of the Deserving Citizens in Belgrade's New Cemetery.
After Vasko Popa died, he was already recognized as one of the greatest and most original Serbian poets, a writer whose name was also considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
In 1995, the town of Vrshac 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's work has the brief-and-to-the-point modernist style, and has nothing to do with the Socialist Realism that dominated in Eastern Europe after the World War II. He was not a prolific writer; he wrote only eight books of poetry. His poetry is concrete, richly associative, fantastic, and often grotesque. Popa's universal themes-life, death, fate, love-are conveyed through a terse, economical style that is enriched with the imagery of Serbian folk history.
From the poems he wrote, I was impressed by the group of poems about the little box. "The Little Box" is metaphorical poem, written in his modernist style, and could be understood in many different ways. In my opinion, the little box is a metaphor of the human mind. He describes, in this poem, how the box gets her first teeth, then the room she was in is now inside her; moreover the house, the city, the world and the universe. This metaphor explains the development of the person's mind and its perceptions. Notice that the box is referred as a feminine gender, because in Serbian language it is so. It finishes the poem with simple, but very strong verse: "Take care of the little box". Besides "The Little Box" there is ten more poems concerning the same issue: The Admirers of The Little Box, The Craftsmen of the Little Box, Enemies of the Little Box, etc.
In my opinion they all hold the metaphor of the human mind, and on very brief, concise and amusing way convey their message. I was impressed by the lines of "the Craftsmen of the Little Box". In twelve verses Popa gives advices that we should not open the little box, but neither does close. This means we should not let our mind to accept every earthly occurrence, but neither does close it in one circle. We should be open for new perceptions, but still maintain a balance. Moreover Popa says we should neither drop the little box, nor throw it in the air. He finishes the poem with two very strong verses, again:
I found these poems very amusing because of their brief and highly metaphorical structure. However, the greatest impression was their meaning and their unique way of conveying a message to the reader. They all talk about the human mind, its abilities and the way we should treat it. I do not know the inspiration of Vasko Popa about these poems but I certainly enjoy reading them and getting the messages they hide in.