Biography of Vasko Popa
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 the Faculty of Philosophy at Belgrade University. He published his first poems in the magazines Književne novine (Literary Magazine) and the 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 the 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 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 1965 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.
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Vasko Popa Poems
A Conceited Mistake
Once upon a time there was a mistake So silly so small That no one would even have noticed it
Some bite from the others A leg an arm or whatever Take it between their teeth
Far Within Us #1
We raise our arms The street climbs into the sky We lower our eyes The roofs go down into the earth
Before The Game
Shut one eye then the other Peek into every corner of yourself See that there are no nails no thieves See that there are no cuckoo's eggs
The Admirers Of The Little Box
Sing little box Don't let sleep overtake you The world's awake within you
Give Me Back My Rags #1
Give me back my rags My rags of pure dreaming Of silk smiling of striped foreboding
Nobody rests This one constantly shifts his eyes Hangs them on his head
The Enemies Of The Little Box
Don't box down to the little box Which supposedly contains everything Your star and all other stars
Far Within Us #3
Unquiet you walk Along the rims of my eyes On the invisible grating
Someone hides from someone else Hides under his tongue The other looks for him under the earth
Far Within Us #2
Look here's that uninvited Alien presence look it's here A shudder on the ocean of tea in the cup
Far Within Us #6
From the wrinkle between my brows You watch till day breaks On my face
The Craftsmen Of The Little Box
Don't open the little box Heaven's hat will fall out of her Don't close her for any reason
Give Me Back My Rags #4
Get out of my walled infinity Of the star circle round my heart Of my mouthful of sun
Far Within Us #1
We raise our arms
The street climbs into the sky
We lower our eyes
The roofs go down into the earth
From every pain
We do not mention
Grows a chestnut tree
That stays mysterious behind us