I have a little broom closet in my heart for Eastern European poetry that’s lit by a bare bulb, and the Serbians occupy the top shelf. This anthology is highly recommended: the poems are often dark, and more image- than language-driven, full of icons and other religious references, animal totems, candles for the deceased, graveyards, dead leaves. It’s vivid poetry, and surrealistic. There’s humor, too, but it’s not light-hearted.
The two luminaries here are Vasko Popa and Novica Tadic. Charles Simic, who edited and translated the anthology, offers a generous selection of their work. Popa is a spinner of his own weird mythologies, and his series about the enigmatic, at times vaginal Little Box that “holds the whole world” is some of the best poetry I’ve ever read. You can read all the Little Box poems included in this anthology here: http://pith.net/pith/the-little-box-series-by-vasko-popa. Novica Tadic is another great poet, darker and meaner and worth the while. His 20 poems are a high point of the book. (No disrespect, get the anthology if you like rich, potent poetry that isn’t about the beauty of nature, social inequality or surviving a sad romance, but I’d suggest you go for the separate collections of these poets put out by the Field Translation Series: Homage to the Lame Wolf: Selected Poems and Night Mail: Selected Poems,both translated by Simic.)
I also enjoyed the poems by Milorad Pavic, whose name I recognized. He wrote the novel The Dictionary of the Khazars, which I tried and failed to finish as a teenager. His “Holy Mass for Relja Krilatica” is one of the best pieces in this book, in my opinion. Aside from Radmila Lazic, who’s been translated by Simic in a separate collection, I’d never encountered any of these poets. Here’s a poem by Aleksandar Ristovic:Dead Leaves
Danton is waiting to die
but the day won’t break.
His vest is full of lice
and he has rain in his boots.
On his face there are already signs
of his exceptional destiny.
He watches me from a great distance
walk under the trees
and gather dead leaves
with a long stick ending in a spike.