Ross Shideler, UCLA professor of Comparative and Scandinavian literature, discusses the Nobel Prize winner’s work
Tomas Transtromer, a Swedish poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011 for a body of work known for shrewd metaphors couched in deceptively spare language, crystalline descriptions of natural beauty and explorations of the mysteries of identity and creativity, died on Thursday in Stockholm. He was 83.
The Swedish publisher Albert Bonniers announced the death without giving a cause. In 1990, at age 59, Mr. Transtromer had a stroke that severely curtailed his ability to speak; he also lost the use of his right arm.
With a pared-down style and brusque, forthright diction, Mr. Transtromer (pronounced TRAWN-stroh-mur) wrote in accessible language, though often in the service of ideas that were diaphanous and not easy to parse; he could be precisely observant one moment and veer toward surrealism the next.
Editor’s note: Tomas Tranströmer received the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature on October 6, 2011.
By Steven Ford Brown
I first met Monica and Tomas Tranströmer in 1983, in Texas. I had left my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, to attend a graduate writing program and nominated myself to pick them up at the airport. We immediately had a connection, since I had met Robert Bly in the 1970s and published a special feature on his poetry in Aura Literary Arts Review, a magazine I edited for the English Department of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The Tranströmers were delighted as their close relationship with Bly dated back to the 1960s.
The arrival of the Tranströmers on campus coincided that week with the arrival of Howard Moss, the poetry editor of The New Yorker. Ambition is very much an American trait, and most of the writing students chose to spend time with Moss on the chance he might choose their work for publication. That left the Tranströmers to me, so I gave them a guided tour of the city. We lunched at an Asian restaurant and visited a music store where Tomas could buy sheet music for piano to add to his growing library at home. Since childhood Tomas had played piano, and he was as talented with music as he was with poetry. The rest of the week Tomas conducted a poetry workshop and met individually with students. He concluded his residency with a reading before a large and enthusiastic audience.
The year’s Nobel Prize winners in physics and literature both change the way we think
I told some friends that Tomas Tranströmer had won the Nobel Prize. Some responded, “Who?” and others said that it was cool that someone in Baltimore had won the Nobel.
This latter group, of course, had heard the local hubbub and were thinking about Adam Riess at the Johns Hopkins University, who (along with two other physicists) was awarded the Nobel in physics for showing that the universe is still expanding. Mr. Riess was able to infer this by observing close by and further away supernovae. And contrary to the expectation of universe observers who thought that the cosmos would be slowing down by now, so long after the big bang, Mr. Riess showed that the expansion of the universe is actually speeding up. Who knew?
The Nobel Prize confers a strange kind of celebrity, particularly in America, where celebrity attainment and study are an exact, natural science. Something is a little mushy in the criteria for that Nobel Prize award though, from the vantage point of America. They even gave one to Barack Obama, didn’t they? I think a lot of people had the same hope for the Obama presidency: bending the universe toward justice.
I started reading Mr. Tranströmer about 25 years ago. The publisher New Directions had brought him out in translation from his native Swedish, and I had found a dusty copy in a used book shop in Washington, D.C., when I thought poetry was the something that could effect the expansion or contraction of the universe. His poems seemed to me like a truth about our time, like Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” but allowing for something more beautiful, pleasurable, possible, while we wait.
By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY
Nothing like the Nobel Prize for Literature to boast a poet’s reputation — and readership.
A day after Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer was awarded the 2011 prize, one of his American publishers, Ecco, a division of HarperCollins, announced it’s reissuing two volumes of his poetry: For The Living and the Dead: A Memoir and Poems, and Selected Poems, edited by Robert Hass.
Both titles will be reissued in paperback next week, with e-books to follow.
Tranströmer’s other English translations include The Sorrow Gondola (published by Green Integer), The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems (New Directions), and The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer (Graywolf).
Tranströmer suffered a stroke two decades ago, which affected his ability to speak, though he has continued to write.
Ecco Publisher Daniel Halpern, who first published Tranströmer in 1987, said in a statement, “So much poetry, not only in this country but everywhere, too often feels small and exclusively confessional – it doesn’t look outward, it looks back at itself. But there are some poets who write a true international poetry and Tomas is among them. It’s his particular sensibility that runs through the poems that’s so deeply seductive. What a wonderful writer he is – lyrical and open, curious and intelligent.”
Hass, a former U.S. poet laureate who edited Tranströmer’s Selected Poems, writes of him, “Perhaps more than any other living poet, Tranströmer conveys a sense of what it is to be a private citizen anywhere in the second half of the twentieth century.”
By Emily Witt 10/10 3:34pm
When Barbara Epler received the news last week that Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer had won the Nobel Prize for literature, she had one reaction: “I said, ‘Call the printers!’” she recalled.
Ms. Epler is the president of New Directions, publisher of Mr. Tranströmer’s The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems, an anthology translated by the Scottish poet Robin Fulton. For New Directions, Mr. Tranströmer’s win was big news — by Friday its book was ranked #12 on Amazon, a rarity for the independent publisher, which is known for its commitment to publishing difficult poetry and literature in translation.
“For a poetry book to be number 12 that just kills me,” said Ms. Epler, adding that while Mr. Tranströmer “sells perfectly well in our terms” the spike in sales last week was positively “stratospheric.” In response, New Directions quickly arranged to have an additional 1,500 copies of The Great Enigma printed for shipment by tomorrow, forcing its short run publisher to work through the Columbus Day holiday. Another 8,000 copies will follow in a few weeks.
In Minneapolis, Graywolf Press, the independent publisher of The Half-finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer, selected and translated by the poet Robert Bly, celebrated the award with scones and muffins. Then they went to work. “We were all pretty busy actually,” said Graywolf publicity director Erin Kottke. “We didn’t have time to really revel in it because we were scrambling to figure out what the next step was.” Graywolf’s reprint is now also underway: 10,000 copies with a Nobel Prize sticker on the cover for release in three weeks and a planned second printing with an amended cover to follow.
Poets Adonis (Ali Ahmed Said), Syria, and Tomas Tranströmer, Sweden
Poets lead running for Nobel Literature prize
By Simon Johnson
STOCKHOLM | Tue Oct 4, 2011 9:11pm EDT
(Reuters) – Two poets, one Swedish and the other Syrian, are leading the betting to win the 2011 Nobel Literature prize, a bookmaker said on Tuesday, though past prizes have often defied the predictions.
British betting firm Ladbrokes have the 81-year-old Syrian poet known as Adonis at odds of 4/1 and Swede Tomas Transtromer, 80, at 7/1 to win the 10 million crown ($1.5 million) prize, to be announced on October6. Japan’s Haruki Murakami was third at 8/1.
All three have been on the betting list of candidates before, but an award to Adonis, a champion of democracy and secular thought, would chime well with Arab Spring revolts in several Middle Eastern nations — though he has not been without his critics who view his support for the uprisings as too muted.
Apart from his political engagement, Khaled Mattawa, who has translated many of Adonis’ works into English, said the Syrian — named Ali Hamid Saeed at birth — deserved to be recognised for his artistry.