I’ve got it in my hand now, the hefty slab of it, Vasko Popa Complete Poems and I thought I’d have a go at saying summat about it. Now, I love Popa and over the last year he has been the biggest influence over my work. At a fundamental level Popa has altered my approach to writing a poem. I’ve taken to lounging on my green sofa by the bay window and reading and reading. Sometimes when I’ve finished a poem, I immediately race back and give it another go, running back for seconds. The poems are dense or take some unlocking or are multi-layered and yet – and yet – they are instantly delightful. You can access them, you get a hit, but you can chew them over and over and they keep their flavour. Here’s a snippet from, ‘The Lost Red Boot,’ page 270; about his grandmother who;
Used to sail the sky in a wooden trough
And catch rain-bearing clouds
I’ve read the poem many times and I’m struck by that rain-bearing, of course they are, but somehow and maybe it’s me yearning for a dose of Yugoslav/Serbian zaniness, to me, it is an odd way of putting it, and of course – Yes – it is right, exact, precise, but I never would have thought of it.
As a writer committed to progression, upon the completion of a project, I like to pause and contemplate how to throw my work in a new direction. Another thing that’s going on, is an irk I have, sometimes I feel hampered by being – through no fault of my own – continually compared to the three giants of Yorkshire poetry, so I’m extra keen to sound different. So I had been enjoying completing a sonnet sequence, (‘My Blue Suede Shoes Are At The Cleaners’) and I wanted to move somewhere, I wanted a new world, to build a new world. I had this half idea ruminating, it sprang from The Mekons’s song, ‘Empire of the Senseless,’ so I started constructing this Popa-esque empire. Bear with me while I digress; I came to Popa through Simic. I think it’s worth saying here, I am always on the lookout for exemplary poetry, poetry that challenges me, that says, Come on then – you do that! I’ve read hundreds of poetry collections and I’ve become – not disillusioned but the more you read, the less often you strike gold. You know what I mean, don’t you? I wasn’t finding the gems.
So I went back and read a couple of my favourite anthologies and I was struck by how fresh and alive the Simic contributions were, so I went back to my bookcase by the side of my green sofa and fished out all my Simic books including the essays and I found something extra. I had always had a sense of Yes – Yes – Yes – This is it! But when I came back to re-read Charles it strengthened my vision of my world, my empire of the senseless, I could see a way to throw my writing in a new direction and not be compared to big Ian. Furthermore, through one of the essays I was signposted to the madcap Aleksander Ristovic, who I devoured voraciously and went back for seconds and imbued myself, stewed myself. Thus fortified I went back to the stupendous anthology, ‘The Horse Has Six Legs,’ and travelled further into this other world, further away from Chance Ave, further Away from Hull, from England. This was exactly what I wanted, I found more in the Lalic poems, so I bought his selected, then I went to Romania and feasted on Marin Sorescu and Mircea Dinescu, but that’s another story.
Then I went for Popa. Currently you are limited to the thick chunk that is the four hundred and five page poem fest; Complete Poems. Buy it. You won’t regret it! There were a lot of wider issues I was wrestling with, as I touched upon earlier, I always battle with accessibility versus resistance. Popa showed me something. He draws on Yugoslave folk tales. Now, I have often felt that the British literary poetry inclination to draw on mythology is pretentious and fake. Come on, we don’t all know the myths. It’s not a shared thing. So what are our shared stories? Ladybird Books! Don’t we all know; The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Rapunzel, Snow White, Goldilocks? And then I thought, how easy it would be to weave elements of the fairy stories into the world I was building. The characters could appear and re-appear as they do in the world of Popa. I’ve rambled a bit haven’t I? But let me tell you, there’s something here, something magic, something that you don’t see in British poetry.
And that’s it, that’s all I’m saying. So how did Popa influence me? Well to really find out, you’ll have to wait until My Blue Suede Shoes Are at the Cleaners and The Empire of The Senseless are published.