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This review is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.

EVERYTHING RETURNS VASKO POPA, translated by Andrew Harvey and Anne Pennington, The Golden Apple (Anvil) £8.95
MAK DIZDAR, translated by Francis R. Jones, Stone Sleeper (Anvil) £9.95

It wouldn’t be entirely true to say that these two volumes from the former Yugoslavia complement each other. Rather, like all projects concerned with national identity from within that tragic region, they demonstrate a family resemblance, which Anvil Press – as always, simultaneously enterprising and serious – has placed in equilibrium by producing both these well-thought-out editions.

Neither book will be news to anyone acquainted with Southern Slav literature. Vasko Popa, the great Serbian poet from the broadly antinationalist, ethnically mixed Vojvodina – he was born close to the Romanian border, and of Romanian descent – was one of the ‘Nobel-isables’: a poet of world stature who may have missed out on the prize for any number of reasons but who, in fine translations by Ted Hughes, Charles Simic, Francis R. Jones and, as here, Andrew Harvey and Anne Pennington, is essential reading for every poet who aspires to be more than provincial in taste. His Od Zlata Jabuka (The Golden Apple) is a collection of ‘folk poetry’, from stories to riddles, whose anonymous, ‘universal dimension’ he identified as a poetics: ‘the presence of the whole universe in everything’. But there’s another reason why such ethnographic material has exerted such a strong hold over the imaginations of poets from modernism onwards (Popa published his selection in 1966). In Serbia, as elsewhere in Europe, what was to emerge as the national, literary language was for imperial centuries the oral vernacular of a colonised population. It’s therefore only in ...


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