Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of Popa’s verse is its terseness. His poetry is often aphoristic, and his language is reduced to a bare minimum. When he wants to underscore the maddening intensity and chaos of a battle, he describes a river turning and twisting, unable to find its shores again. The agility of a horse is illustrated by its eight legs—the impression one gets when observing a galloping horse. Popa always uses fewer rather than more words, to the point of being cryptic and difficult to fathom at times.
There is also a certain playfulness in Popa’s poetry, connected with his aforementioned predilection for games and pantomime amid the horrors of war. It can be good-natured fun (a picture of a donkey that cannot be seen for its large ears), often turning, however, into the nervous, biting humor of a sensitive man dissatisfied with his world. Not infrequently, Popa’s humor takes a mordant, even macabre twist, but more often he laughs at the absurdity, the tragicomedy, of human life. In his most exalted poetry, in Secondary Heaven, the old sun stopped “Three paces from the top of heaven . . ./ And went back to his rising/ (So as not to die in our sight)”; similarly, two lame rays lead a blind sun, and “morning is out somewhere seeking his fortune.” Such humor is hard to separate from the irony with which Popa’s worldview is suffused.
His irony, too, assumes various forms. The most noticeable is his almost chatty approach to problems facing his creatures or things. At a crucial moment, when a solution is expected, the poet half jestingly quips, “What shall I tell you?” meaning, “Oh, what’s the use!” His ironic attitude arises for the most part from his awareness that he is locked in a losing battle with his old nemesis, although he stubbornly refuses to admit defeat.