2011 Nobel Prize for Literature goes to… who? Oh, I hear he’s big in Stockholm

by |October 8, 2011

This is the part of the story where I reveal that I have been reading the poetry of Tomas Tranströmer for years and entirely concur with The Swedish Academy’s reasoning behind awarding him the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2011 >> “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”. Obviously.

Ummmm… Any of you believe that? You did? Oooo….kay.

You’ll remember this one. Love this poem…

The Nightingale in Badelunda

In the green midnight at the nightingale’s northern limit. Heavy leaves hang in trance, the deaf cars race towards the neon-line. The nightingale’s voice rises without wavering to the side, it is as penetrating as a cock-crow, but beautiful and free of vanity. I was in prison and it visited me. I was sick and it visited me. I didn’t notice it then, but I do now. Time streams down from the sun and the moon and into all the tick-tock-thankful clocks. But right here there is no time. Only the nightingale’s voice, the raw resonant notes that whet the night sky’s gleaming scythe. 

From Tomas Transtromer, New Collected Poems, translated by Robin Fulton (Bloodaxe Books, 1997/2011)

OMG. How silly do those good folk feel who thought Bob Dylan would win it this year? Ha ha ha. How does that man’s unquestioned genius compare with the phenomenal influence and art of… Ummmm…. What the heck was he called, again?

Tomas Tranströmer. Right. Of course.

I don’t know why I am going to repeat these biographical details… it does seem a bit redundant as we all know his work intimately but….

Tomas Tranströmer was born in Stockholm on 15 April 1931. His mother Helmy was a schoolteacher and his father Gösta Tranströmer a journalist. After graduating in 1950 from Södra Latin grammar school he studied literature history and poetics, the history of religion, and psychology at Stockholm University – subjects he took for his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1956. After completed academic studies, he was employed as an assistant at the Institution for Psychometrics at Stockholm University in 1957. In the following year, he married Monica Bladh. Between 1960 and 1966, he worked as a psychologist at Roxtuna, a youth correctional facility near Linköping. In 1980 he took a position at the Labour Market Institute (Arbetsmarknadsinstitutet) in Västerås. In 1990 Tranströmer suffered a stroke that left him largely unable to speak.

After publishing poems in a number of journals, Tranströmer published in 1954 17 dikter (17 poems) – one of the most acclaimed literary debuts of the decade. Already apparent was the interest in nature and music that has informed a major part of his production. With the following collections – Hemligheter på vägen (1958; Secrets along the way), Den halvfärdiga himlen (1962; The Half-Finished Heaven, 2001) and Klanger och spår (1966; see Windows & Stones : Selected Poems, 1972) – he consolidated his standing among critics and other readers as one of the leading poets of his generation. 

A suite, Östersjöar (1974; Baltics, 1975), gathers fragments of a family chronicle from Runmarö Island in the Stockholm archipelago, where his maternal grandfather was a pilot and where Tranströmer has spent many summers since boyhood. His reminiscences from growing up in the 1930s and ‘40s are collected in a memoir, Minnena ser mig (1993; see: Memories look at me in New Collected Poems, 1997).

Most of Tranströmer’s poetry collections are characterised by economy, concreteness and poignant metaphors. In his latest collections, Sorgegondolen (1996; The Sorrow Gondola, 1997) and Den stora gåtan (2004; The Great Enigma, 2006), Tranströmer has shifted towards an even smaller format and a higher degree of concentration.

Tranströmer was introduced in the United States by author Robert Bly as early as the 1960s. Since then, international interest in his poetry has grown and he has now been translated into more than sixty languages. Tranströmer has periodically published his own translations of poetry in other languages. A collection, entitled Tolkningar (Interpretations), was published in 1999.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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