Tomas Tranströmer Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature

The Swedish Academy announced today that the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature goes to eighty-year-old Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. In its press release -- itself an almost poetically compressed document -- the Academy said they chose Tranströmer "because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality." Helen Vendler illuminated his work in a 2009 essay in the New York Review of Books, saying: "He looks deep into the pool of the mind until an image looks back at him, and he holds it steady."


Many Americans will likely be as unfamiliar with Tranströmer's name and work as they have been with some recent Laureates (2009's honoree, the Romanian-born German novelist Herta Müller comes to mind), but that's not for lack of translation into English. For starters, there's Robin Fulton's translation of the poems in The Great Enigma, published by New Directions for U.S. readers in 2006.


Additionally, one of America's most well-known poets, Robert Bly, has translated Tranströmer's work in volumes including The Half-Finished Heaven (which earn's novelist Teju Cole's high praise -- see below) and as part of his marvelous book The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations. (In fact, Bly and Tranströmer even published a volume of their correspondence, entitled Air Mail, in 2001.)


More is on the way -- as reported in the New York Times, Ecco has announced a new edition of Tranströmer's Selected Poems will appear soon, and an American edition of the collection The Deleted World, translated by Robin Robertson, is set to be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux before the end of the year.


This morning on Twitter, the Nigerian-American novelist Teju Cole has been celebrating Transtormer's poetry, and pointed out that a line from the Swedish writer's verse was one of the inspirations for the title of his highly praised recent novel Open City.


Want a taste of Tranströmer's verse? There are samples here and here, and The Literary Saloon has a nice roundup of resources and information.


-- Bill Tipper

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

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