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This review is taken from PN Review 22, Volume 8 Number 2, November - December 1981.

RIDDLE ME THAT Vasko Popa, The Golden Apple (Anvil Press) £4.25

The first substantial selection of Vasko Popa's poetry was published in Britain by Penguin Books in their pioneering Modern European Poets series. In 1978 Carcanet published the late Anne Pennington's versions of his collected poems. He is a poet who well deserves the tribute. His fascination with game, fable and nightmare lends his poetry a vitality which comes over well in Anne Pennington's sympathetic renderings. But-as she recognised in her preface-what was hard to convey was the closeness of Popa's poetry, in both style and substance, to the Serbo-Croat folk tradition. The Golden Apple helps to do just this. It consists of translations from Popa's own selection from Serbo-Croat folk literature. But the book does much more than serve as background to the work of a fine poet. It is full of interest in its own right. The translations (by Anne Pennington and Andrew Harvey) reproduce the energy of the original. The contents range from concentrated versions of familiar fairytales-for instance 'the golden apple and the nine peahens'-to riddles, curses and proverbs. Throughout there is the sense of the unadorned, unrationalised essence of folk tradition, even though the translators have wisely opted not to attempt to reproduce the metrical forms of the originals. In a volume as varied as this one, each reader will find his own favourites. I take most delight in the riddles. The translations of these have a terse economy that points up the wit:


I jumped into a pit
And ...


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