Thursday, October 6, 2011

TOMAS TRANSTRÖMER: Ten things you never Knew about the Poet you never Knew

Our guide to the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature.
By Marie-Claire Chappet

Whilst we would all like to claim awareness of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature recipient, a poll currently underway at reveals that eighty-eight percent of those who logged on to discover this year's winner had never read his poetry. Should you find yourself within this statistic, here is our handy guide to Tomas Tranströmer.

Tomas Transtromer is the ninth Swede to win the Nobel Prize for Literature

1. Born in 1931 in Stokholm to a schoolteacher mother and journalist father, Tranströmer spent much of his childhood in an Enid Blyton style blurr of jolly seaside holidays on Runmarö Island (in the Stockholm archipelago.) This became fodder for his nostalgic poems Östersjöar (1974; Baltics, 1975) and his 1993 memoir Minnena ser mig (The memories see me).

2. Tranströmer studied literary history, history of religion and psychology at Stokholm University. After graduating he was employed at the Institution for Psychometrics at Stockholm University in 1957 and, between 1960 and 1966, worked as a psychologist at Roxtuna, a youth correctional facility.

3. Despite a previous smattering of poems published in journals, Tranströmer's literary debut was 954 17 dikter (17 poems.) It has been consided one of the most acclaimed literary debuts of that decade.

4. In Sweden he is known as a 'buzzard poet' because his poetry views the world from a great a buzzard, apparently.

5. His most notable works are Klanger och spår (1966, Windows and Stones) and Den stora gåtan (2004, The Great Enigma.)

6. No excuses for not having read Tranströmer. His works have been translated into over fifty languages.

7. Tranströmer suffered a debilitating stroke in 1990 that left him half-paralysed and unable to speak. Despite this, the poet continues to write, producing over five new works since his stroke, including his memoirs.

8. His close friendship with the America poet Robert Bly means that the two poets are often read in conjunction. Bly was responsible for introducing Tranströmer's work to the United States as early as 1960 and their correspondence has been published in the book 'Air Mail.'

9. Tranströmer is not a one trick pony. Besides his successful career as a respected psychologist, he is also known as a skilled literary translator, entomologist, and classical pianist. He hasn't let his paralysis stop him either. He continues to perform one handed piano recitals throughout Europe. Impressive stuff.

10. Tomas Transtromer is no stranger to awards. He has already collected the Bonnier Award for Poetry, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Oevralids Prize, the Petrarca-Preis in Germany, the Golden Wreath of the Struga Poetry Evenings and the Swedish Award from International Poetry Forum. In 2007, Tranströmer received a special Lifetime Recognition Award given by the trustees of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, which also awards the annual Griffin Poetry Prize. He has now become the ninth Swedish winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.



National Insecurity

The Under Secretary leans forward and draws an X
and her ear-drops dangle like swords of Damocles.

As a mottled butterfly is invisible against the ground
so the demon merges with the opened newspaper.

A helmet worn by no one has taken power.
The mother-turtle flees flying under the water.

“National Insecurity” from New and Collected Poems by Tomas Transtromer,
translated by Robin Fulton. Published in 1997 by Bloodaxe Books.

Source: New and Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 1997)


November in the Former DDR

The almighty cyclop’s-eye clouded over
and the grass shook itself in the coal dust.

Beaten black and blue by the night’s dreams
we board the train
that stops at every station
and lays eggs.

Almost silent.
The clang of the church bells’ buckets
fetching water.
And someone’s inexorable cough
scolding everything and everyone.

A stone idol moves its lips:
it’s the city.
Ruled by iron-hard misunderstandings
among kiosk attendants butchers
metal-workers naval officers
iron-hard misunderstandings, academics!

How sore my eyes are!
They’ve been reading by the faint glimmer of the glow-worm   lamps.

November offers caramels of granite.
Like world history
laughing at the wrong place.

But we hear the clang
of the church bells’ buckets fetching water
every Wednesday
- is it Wednesday? -
so much for our Sundays!

“November in the Former DDR” from New and Collected Poems by Tomas Transtromer,
translated by Robin Fulton. Published in 1997 by Bloodaxe Books.

Source: New and Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 1997)


The Indoors is Endless

It’s spring in 1827, Beethoven
hoists his death-mask and sails off.

The grindstones are turning in Europe’s windmills.
The wild geese are flying northwards.

Here is the north, here is Stockholm
swimming palaces and hovels.

The logs in the royal fireplace
collapse from Attention to At Ease.

Peace prevails, vaccine and potatoes,
but the city wells breathe heavily.

Privy barrels in sedan chairs like paschas
are carried by night over the North Bridge.

The cobblestones make them stagger
mamselles loafers gentlemen.

Implacably still, the sign-board
with the smoking blackamoor.

So many islands, so much rowing
with invisible oars against the current!

The channels open up, April May
and sweet honey dribbling June.

The heat reaches islands far out.
The village doors are open, except one.

The snake-clock’s pointer licks the silence.
The rock slopes glow with geology’s patience.

It happened like this, or almost.
It is an obscure family tale

about Erik, done down by a curse
disabled by a bullet through the soul.

He went to town, met an enemy
and sailed home sick and grey.

Keeps to his bed all that summer.
The tools on the wall are in mourning.

He lies awake, hears the woolly flutter
of night moths, his moonlight comrades.

His strength ebbs out, he pushes in vain
against the iron-bound tomorrow.

And the God of the depths cries out of the depths
‘Deliver me! Deliver yourself!’

All the surface action turns inwards.
He’s taken apart, put together.

The wind rises and the wild rose bushes
catch on the fleeing light.

The future opens, he looks into
the self-rotating kaleidoscope

sees indistinct fluttering faces
family faces not yet born.

By mistake his gaze strikes me
as I walk around here in Washington

among grandiose houses where only  
every second column bears weight.

White buildings in crematorium style
where the dream of the poor turns to ash.

The gentle downward slope gets steeper
and imperceptibly becomes an abyss.

“The Indoors is Endless” from New and Collected Poems by Tomas Transtromer,
translated by Robin Fulton. Published in 1997 by Bloodaxe Books.

Source: New and Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 1997)

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