For me there’s TS ( Eliot) and there’s also TT ( Tranströmer).
For a serious discussion we could take a closer look at the text – whether it’s the Qur’an in Arabic or the much vaunted quality of Puskin’s prose in the Russian language.
Flabbergasted – that’s the word that most accurately expresses my reaction to the unfounded arrogance and presumptuousness of the article presumably written by someone, allegedly in his capacity of being a poet of sorts (there are poets and there are poets) – on which grounds he feels qualified to pass the final & derogatory judgement on a by far superior poet in terms of range, quality and quantity
And one is aware of someone else’s right ( including mine) to – in the name of freedom of speech – pass judgement – as TS said, “ criticism is as inevitable as breathing.”
So I’m feeling some ilska …about all the tittle-tattle about “ prose poetry” etc…
This is a light response to an unfortunate review, feeble, not so sound, not so well informed or knowledgeable and signifying not so much, by one who knows no better. That so called review/editorial was nothing but an exercise in futility – nothing I know or have heard about Tomas Tranströmer so far, could be more misleading.
“You say I am repeating Something I have said before. I shall say it again.”(T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets )
For years, everybody, literally everybody has had their favourite or couple of favourite poets, novelists, playwrights by-passed even by Ladbrokes, for some other/s who has/have bagged the annual Noble Prize awarded for Literature. And quite literally, this “everybody” sometimes includes whole nations and not exactly only in the sense in which Derek Walcott uses the concept of nation in this little piece of self-definition:
“I’m just a red nigger who love the sea
I had a sound colonial education
I have Dutch, nigger and English in me
and either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.”
(The Schooner Boy)
So, the United States has been waiting hopefully for Philip Roth among others – or even a more unexpected surprise which that nation would equally welcome to win the prize, just as France and those belonging to other language groups such as Germany, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, the United Kingdom, Canada , India, Australia, Iran, Israel, Portugal and other nations also pray that they will be blessed by the Nobel selection committee in October this year. Unfortunately, the Swedish Academy which decides is not in a position to bless everybody, certainly not at the same time and as Mr. Soyinka told me in 1979, when I broached the subject of the Nobel Prize in Literature, he told me, “I also have my favourite” – at which time I thought maybe he was sincerely and not just poetically referring to himself….
The announcement of the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature has always been greeted with joy in some quarters – sometimes ( not always) there’s an almost universal approval – and when there’s no such universal approval, since the Swedish Academy cannot please everybody – some hopefuls will have to wait till next year, or the year after before immortal internment.
Sweden is really a country of writers, poets, poetry lovers, novelists, playwrights, theatre, – a country which has a high literacy rate and a country nowadays, in which almost every other male or female is an author – or a secret poet. There is no dearth of poets in Sweden or in Swedish which is also a melodic tongue. My first acquaintance with Swedish poetry was in early 1970 in Ghana – when a friend of my Better Half ( actually later on was Derek Walcott’s literary agent in Sweden – and yes did attend the Noble banquet when he won the prize – was also V.S. Naipaul’s literary agent) anyway, she sent me a slim volume of Swedish poetry translated into English now out of print “Seven Swedish Poets” which introduced, Gunnar Ekelof, Hjalmar Gullberg, Par Lagerkvist, Erik Lindegren, Bertil Malmberg, Harry Martinson, and Edith Sodegran – and that’s how I learned my first important Swedish word ångest (anguish) and met my first Swedish poet Per-Eric Söder in the early 70s in Stockholm…..lost track of him…..
So back to all the tittle-tattle on this track and some of the more interesting comments by David Shook, Dami Ajayi, Yemi Soneye and Tade Ipadeola, in response to AE’s tittle-tattle…
“According to the awards committee, Tranströmer won “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.” From my own readings of the poet’s work, I understand ‘translucent’ to be a euphemism for either ‘prosaic’ or ‘light verse.’“
Transluscent – apt description…. TT is a psychologist by profession just as Baruch Spinoza earned his living grinding and polishing lenses…..
First of all, year after year, the past ten years it has been expected over here among Swedish poetry fans that Tomas Tranströmer win the Nobel Prize – he’s that established and popular here as a Swedish poet and you must know that we in Sweden are are not parochial, we are avid readers of world literature in many foreign languages and also in translation.
“My instinct was to buy a copy of the collected works. But I demurred. Would I be giving a nod of encouragement to the wise but befuddled Swedish heads in Stockholm?”
Befuddled? How? Some people – poets- are sometimes word-drunk so to speak, but the Swedish academy cannot be described as “ befuddled” – although the story is that when Gunnar Ekelöf was a member of the Swedish Academy he turned up for a meeting only once – and was drunk on that occasion……
“I flipped through the work. Apart from some flashes of brilliance, I did not think this effort was worth the prize it has been burdened with.”
“Flipped through” ( that’s real seriousness ). So how do you judge a poet that you have not read ?
So much blah blah. AE’s bird’s eye view/ myopia or far-sightedness can only be cured if he deigns to read and then judge…
“did not think this effort was worth the prize it has been burdened with.”
What is the basis of this disdain? The Swedish Academy would give a non-poet the Noble Prize for poetry ?
“Perhaps there is a need to give a more detailed example of the poet’s work. Two should suffice.”
“Perhaps”indeed ! A more detailed example?
The conclusion ?
“The above is adequate as poetry but I would not describe it as a great verse but poetic prose arranged in verse.”
And then this poet whose poetry is still a stranger is lauded : ” It must be admitted that Tranströmer’s work has an imagistic charm, a brevity and elegance all its own”
Now what’s going on here?
Isn’t this a premature judgement : “Nevertheless, for me as a reader, there is something missing in diction, scansion, and overall poetic depth and resonance to merit a Nobel Prize”
“unless translators have not done ‘poetic justice’ to the Swedish originals.”
Then we had better take a closer look at the translations of Robin Fulton – and other translations just as I compared translations of Gunnar Ekelöf’s poetry that I am familiar with in Swedish – and found to my satisfaction that I preferred the W. H. Audens & L. Sjoberg translations to those of Robert Bly and others…..
And having mentioned Bly – whose poetry and translations I’m much more familiar with than with Tranströmer’s – a good introduction to Tranströmer could be through his correspondence with Robert Bly : “Air Mail: The Correspondence of Robert Bly and Tomas Transtromer”
I wonder how you feel and react to this primitive/ evil sentence : “ Commentary, usually of the positive sort, about this particular award invariably intones sympathetic murmurs about the travails of a poet struck speechless by stroke. There is a disconcerting sense that the Nobel Committee is compensating the poet more for his personal circumstances than for overall poetic excellence.”
It should come as no surprise to the author of the senseless lines above that the only fitting reply is that of Adekunle the village schoolteacher in Wole Soyinka’s “The Lion and the Jewel” when Adekunle/ Lakunle asks,
“For that, what is a jewel to pigs?
If now I am misunderstood by you and your race of savages,
I rise above taunts and remain unruffled “
The “critic” continues, “ The pointer to this is the committee’s own infringement of a standard overriding criterion for the award – a large body of work. The Nobel is given to a living writer for a life’s work, that is, an expansive body of work. Tranströmer’s oeuvre is a relatively slim volume compared to previous winners, even if we were to ignore matters of aesthetic quality and consider that questions about value can, after all, be as subjective as the poet’s own reclusive and socially-distanced muse.”
Tranströmer’s oeuvre is a relatively slim volume compared to previous winners?
Should the response to that be, “ Let the fool speak and the wise give no answer”?
And then to add insult to injury he cackles, “The fact of Tranströmer’ Swedishisness adds to the dissenting camp’s bemusement with the 2011 prize. How convenient, they clamour: the Nobel Committee in Stockholm abandons its own chief criterion and favours a native son.”
Well, there’s the whole world and there’s also Sweden, which is part of the literary world.
When in 1974 the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, it was neither nepotism nor corruption but there was surely an element of national pride in these two Swedes receiving this high literary honour.
Ama anxiously awaiting the follow up to this
|‘Tranströmeration’ of the Nobel|