Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality” (see the press release here).
For those who keep track, he is the first poet to win since 1996, when Wislaw Szymborska won. However, he is the eighth European to win the in the last ten years. However, again, he is the first Scandinavian to win since 1974, when Eyvind Johnson shared the award with Harry Martinson.
I haven’t read a word written by Tranströmer, despite the fact that his name is always toward the top of the list of Nobel potentials and the fact that two of my favorite publishers have published books by him (New Directions published The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems and Graywolf Press published The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer).
I am personally happy to see it go to a poet, especially after such a long spell. Poetry is generally taken too lightly, and usually not at all, as if it were true that whatever you want to call poetry is poetry.This is an attitude worthy only of adolescents. But this too shall pass.
The Poetry Foundation, that self-congratulatory bastion of the curious and the arcane has only two poems by Tomas Transtrømmer in its archives. One is only about six lines long. Maybe he didn’t have a stroke, after all: maybe he just got tired of talking to himself!
Yes, I agree, Kevin. Poetry gets very little airspace these days. There will be the usual howls of outrage, but from the Nobel prize winners that I’ve read, I think the committee has introduced the rest of us to some very interesting writers that we otherwise in the US/UK-dominated world would never come across. I am thinking of le Clezio in particular, but also Elias Canetti and Australia’s own Patrick White.
Not quite true, Trevor. When Herta Müller won it two years ago the citation made particular note of her depiction of the landscape of the dispossessed via “the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose”. It’s just that to us, in English translation, she’s not known as a poet. But, yes, first exclusive poet since 1996.
In anticipation of Transtömer winning – I had an feeling yesterday – I took The Great Enigma off my shelves and had a dip in and out, getting little from it. Today, with the news, I’ve forced myself to be a bit persistent with reading it and, must say, while I find his poetry sometimes too oblique for me, some of the stuff has been inspirational.
The only issue I take with The Great Enigma is that, given it’s pretty much a complete works, that it isn’t multilingual. I feel that translated poetry ought to come with the original so as to give us an idea of how the original looked and, even if we speak not a jot of the source language, we can see how it scans and determine how it has been translated. Is the English version, for example, replicating the images, or the rhythm. Does it sacrifice rhymes or rhythm to capture the idea in free prose? Or does the image change, to something more suitable, to fit the constrictions of form?
You make a good point. At this stage, at least, of a writer’s career, perhaps more effort should be made to be sure the translation is transparent. By that I mean, that it’s editorial decisions,compromises and distortions of the original qualities are laid out for ALL to see and to understand (and judge). Bi-lingual editions would serve this purpose pretty well.
If not a bi-lingual edition (too cumbersome and costly for novels or even collections of poetry), perhaps an annotated edition would do as, or nearly as, well. Who knows but that this may be in the offing now that the future sales are secured. The need is there. Is there a will to meet it?
I not read him but read a couple of short poems yesterday that people linked too ,I enjoyed them so will be reading a collection in the near future I always feel like I should read more poetry in translation than I do ,all the best stu
Stewart, you got me. I had no idea that Müller wrote an ounce of poetry (though I’m sure I read that citation when she won). I may pick up The Great Enigma some time. I’m somewhat surprised it isn’t bilingual since much of the poetry I get from New Directions is. Probably it’s because they’ve been publishing him for decades so were just putting together stuff based on past practice for him. Or maybe the bilingual editions are even more recent than that edition. I agree that these are valuable editions, even for those who don’t read a lick of the original language.
Stu, I also feel I should read more poetry in translation — and more poetry in general. I’ve felt this way for years, though, so I’m not sure how soon that’ll change for me.