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This review is taken from PN Review 204, Volume 38 Number 4, March - April 2012.

Look After the Little Box vasko popa, Complete Poems, translated by Anne Pennington, revised and expanded by Francis R. Jones (Anvil) £16.95

Vasko Popa is a major figure in post-war Eastern European poetry. His Selected Poems, translated by Anne Pennington and introduced by Ted Hughes, was published by Penguin in 1969 (when it cost only 20p); in 1978, Carcanet brought out his Collected Poems, and this edition was then updated and expanded by Francis Jones and published by Anvil in 1997. The present Complete Poems constitutes the third edition of this volume, now containing a new Editor's preface and eleven new translations.

I say that Popa is a major post-war poet, but his work cannot often be found in anthologies of poems about the Second World War, even those in which his Eastern and Central European contemporaries such as Tadeusz Różewicz (Poland) and János Pilinszky (Hungary) are present. (One significant anthology in which Popa's work, in translation, is included, along with a prose commentary by him, is Daniel Weissbort's The Poetry of Survival: Post-war Poets of Central and Eastern Europe [Penguin, 1991].) This may be because of what has been called the surrealist nature of his writing, especially evident in the early collections Bark (1953)and Unrest-Field (1956). Here, Popa does not write about the war directly, and as Charles Simic pointed out: 'The usual drama of the Self is completely absent' (introduction to Homage to the Lame Wolf: Poems by Vasko Popa, translated by Simic [Oberlin College, 1987], p. 9).

Yet this removal of the self, and the strange playful-sinister fairytale quality of most of Popa's work, ...


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