Duska Vrhovac

Duska Vrhovac

Duska Vrhovac, writer, journalist and translator, born in 1947 in Banja Luka, former Yugoslavia. She graduated contemporary literature at Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade. She has worked in various media and has worked with major newspapers. She has been editor of radio and television broadcasts. A journalist by profession, at the highest level of professional qualifications, she left her job with the RTS (Radio Television of Serbia) and then to work as a writer and freelance journalist. She lives in Belgrade, Serbia.

She has published 17 books of poetry many of which have been translated, in part or in full, in 16 languages (English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian…) and she is considered one of the most famous contemporary poets from Serbia. Present in anthologies devoted to world-class poets. She has received important awards for poetry and the gold badge “for the generosity, dedication, perseverance and creative contributions that are made in his time worked to spread the culture of the nationalities of the Republic of Serbia.” She has participated in numerous meetings, festivals and literary events, journalistic and scientific conferences at home and abroad.

Published poetry books:

  • San po san [Dream By Dream], Nova knjiga, Beograd, 1986
  • S dušom u telu [With a Soul in a Body] Novo delo, Beograd, 1987
  • Godine bez leta [Years Without Summer], Književne novine i Grafos, Beograd, 1988
  • Glas na pragu [Voice on Threshold], Grafos, Beograd, 1990
  • I Wear My Shadow Inside Me, Forest Books, London, 1991 (translated from Serbian: Richard Burns with Vera Radojević)
  • S obe strane Drine [On Both Sides of the Drina River], Zadužbina Petar Kočić, Banja Luka, 1995
  • Žeđ na vodi [Thirst on Water], Srempublik, Beograd, 1995
  • Blagoslov – stošest pesama o ljubavi [BLESSING – onehundredandsix poems of love], Metalograf, Trstenik, 1996
  • Žeđ na vodi, drugo dopunjeno izdanje [Thirst on Water, second revised edition], Srempublik, Beograd, 1997
  • Izabrane i nove pesme [Selected and New Poems], Prosveta, Beograd, 2002
  • Zalog [Forfeit], Ljubostinja, Trstenik, 2003
  • Operacija na otvorenom srcu [Surgery on the open heart], Alma, Beograd 2006
  • Za sve je kriv pesnik [The poet is guilty for everything], independent electronic edition, 2007
  • Moja Desanka (My Desanka), Beograd, 2008
  • Urođene slike/Immagini innati (bilingual edition Serbian/Italian), Smederevo, 2010

About poetry of Duska Vrhovac:

Milan Mihajlović, Otadžbina, broj 6, Beograd 2007: The poetry by Duska Vrhovac is very interesting and provocative. She, behind the all poetical backdrops and metaphors, affects the reader in cathartic, curative and divine way, during and after the reading. Her poems are, without doubt, exceptional achievement, which they assign of modern courses in Serbian and European poetry. Those are poetical forms, from prayer to excellent satire, realized by lyrical means.

Anna Santoliquido, Le Voci Della Luna, Numero 14 Settembre 2000: The great mataphores by Duska Vrhovac are, and they have always been, dream and children, tokens of desire and life that is blooming. The veil of melancholy, disapproval of evil, dreams, layered meanings, feelings, whip up reader’s curiosity for Balkan’s history. And that is how one’s woman poetical vistory becomes universal element and interconecting ring.

Ljubica Miletić, Žedj na vodi (Thirst on Water), second revised edition, Srempublik 1997: While she talks about terrible fantasy of evil, she is strongly on the side of good, that is one kind of Duska’s testimony and resistance, her belief, love and all hope that evil is not omnipotent and that is transient.

Richard Burns, I WEAR MY SHADOW INSIDE ME Poems by Duška Vrhovac, Forest Books, London 1991: A poem by Duška Vrhovac often has the quality of an amulet: open it up, and inside you will find a secret and a memento. In a small space, she can catch and hold the moment, as well as its whole range of echoes. Many of her poems have an easy conversational surface, yet she can make what looks like a polished pebble open and grow in the mind like a seed. In Serbo, she often makes coinages of her own, and relishes the full sonoric and metaphorical resonances of her mother language. And, firmly rooted in her own experience, she never overstates but always affirms her heritage and her consciousness, which are inescapably those of a modern Yugoslav woman. “I don’t put my life into my poems,” she has said. “My life is for the living. What goes into my poems is what can’t be lived in my life.” This compex idea irradiates all her work. The poems are finely patterned miniatures, “inklings”, in all senses of the word: creatures living and breathing through ink, instants at once trapped in time yet freed from it, glimpses and aperçus, intimations and recognitions.


My palm is warm as the Mediterranean sun is,
my eyes are blue like Mediterranean sky,
my words are healing as the waters of the Mediterranean are,
but yet, the Mediterranean is eternal and myself so fleeting.


When I think of you, alive Mediterranean water
forever settled in the colour of my view,
only when I think of you
I see my ancestors how they are helming,
sailing their invisible ships
between merciless, invisible rocks
with song frozen and bound,
and I hear how they are calling my future name.

Whilst trembling I say goodbye to the sun in the dusk
to drown in your horizon
only drowning in you
it will rise again tomorrow,
sweet saltiness of someone’s ancient tears
I can taste on my thickened tongue,
communion with drops of ice
melted on the unquenchable fire of the genesis.


If only I could once
like a seagull over the Mediterranean Sea
soar to the other side of sky,
to the unfathomable beauty of the first dates,
to the places which are long gone
on the maps of the world’s journeys,
my blue eyes would return to the sky
its mute colour of infinity.

If I only once without error
played perfect crystal notes
preludes of souls from sunken ships,
and only once, if I could lie down my shadow
on your blue open sea
as a shadow of a seagull falls on it,
I would return again into the drop of water
of which my mother first created me.

I would return to a daybreak and sand,
to myself eternal and I would learn how to read
secret signs of the wind, water and sky,
signs that today only poetry
attempts to engrave into already too salty air
and into drops of the purple rain,
to save them for some instruments and hands
that neither our unborn children are not aware of yet.

If you die at dusk

If you die at dusk
it won’t be snowing black snow over the city.
One heart will light string of stars
over your last words
and send away a night from your asleep fingers.

If you die at dusk
on your way from the cinema
children from the suburb
will pick up bunches of field flowers
in which you will immerse your leaving image
and you will wish to laugh
when from a distance a train emerges.

If you die at dusk
it won’t be unnoticed.
All you loved will know it,
by accident or unavoidable,
long and painful,
or just for a moment, at a glance.

If you die at dusk
I shall wait for that night
in the town which we haven’t been before
I’ll take you into the garden
of blossomed oranges
to look at the sea
like it is the show
we have directed ourselves
and which promises catharsis.

If you die at dusk
I’ll sail with you easily
like the paths of childhood
and we shall be two shiny, sliver clouds
two chords of a tender sonata
composed for a divine harp
but never played.

If you die at dusk
you’ll trick all others
And you will follow only my voice,
the one which promised you, one night
in the ancient Smederevo
essential date,
referring to this, present life
and you only said: maybe in another life.

If you die at dusk
everything will happen the way I wanted to be
and you will have no choice.
You will love with the strength of
all your former loves,
with ardour of youth which has escaped so suddenly
and poetry in which you have found meaning and salvation.
And you, now, after this poem on poem
choose and die, if you must die.
My shadow still standing at the door
and waving at an innocent smile
of someone who used to be a boy
who has lost track and forgotten the magic word.

To Find My Own Word

Countless poets have already told
how they see a whole world in a grain of sand,
infinity in the palm of a hand, all heaven in an eye,
and how a single day can be an eternity..

Many of them have glorified love,
cursed suffering, sorrow and pain,
described death, hell, paradise and a happy home,
earnest that everlasting shall be their work and name.

Everything has been said and seen,
forewarned, sung and written about,
and there is nothing that has never been.

So why then do here I stand
Like the first woman and the first man,
As if I were a God.

To say what was told?
To describe what is written?
To find my own word.


Poets are a gang,
pretending nomads,
indecisive interpreters
of banalities and eternity.
They are useless seekers,
intemperate lovers,
hunters of lost words,
the spies of roads and seas.

Poets are vain gardeners
of overgrown royal gardens,
vanguards of star derailments,
messengers of sunken ships,
desecrators of secret paths,
crafty repairers of the Ursa Major
and the Ursa Minor,
collectors ?f astral dust.

Poets are thieves of illusions,
troubadours of rejected utopias,
seducers of any kind,
tasters of poisoned food,
prodigal sons and professional seducers,
heroes which spontaneously
put their heads at the guillotine
at which they are also executioners.

Poets are the crowned guardians
of language’s proper being,
lovers of unsolvable mysteries,
charlatans and pimps.
They are the favourites of gods,
tasters of magic drinks,
and crazy squanderers
of their own lives.

Poets are the last offshoots
of the most delicate sort of cosmic beings,
cultivators of the soul’s white flowers,
unreliable creators of untenable worlds.
Poets are interpreters of lost signs,
carriers of important messages,
a warning that Life is endless
and Universe an unfinished project.

Poets are fireflies on the junkyard of the Cosmos,
conquerors of the colourful rainbow belt
and performers of the holy music
of the cosmic birth.
Poets are invisible companions
in the silence of sense and absurdity
of all the visible and the invisible.
Poets are my only, true brothers.

On Oplenac Hill

As I listen to the leaves
on this restless noon wind
at the top of Oplenac Hill
and look down over the vineyards
with all their countless
parched, twisted, bony hands,
and see how the vines intertwine,
again I repeat in myself the words
that have always followed me
and helped me survive.
I strive never to forget
even the faintest of them,
even those half uttered,
for the word restores
the voice and the place,
unwinds time backwards,
confirms me as guardian
and mistress of gifts
prepared for myself alone.

Translators’ note
Oplenac Hill, near Topola, in central Serbia, a place of national historic importance, is the site of a summer palace of the Karadjordjevic dynasty, and the crypt of its monastery is their burial place. Inspired by its loneliness, the autor composed many of the poems for her book Glas na pragu (‘On the Threshold’) in this peaceful and secluded place.


Translated from the Serbian by Richard Burns,
V. Radojević and A. Malešević

Poetry in this post: © Duska Vrhovac
Published with the permission of Duska Vrhovac