Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tomas Transtromer and his exciting poetry

Although I like poetry, I don't dabble in it (or feel as confident about) like I do in literature. Good poetry is harder to find than good fiction because every person with the slightest bit of angst and the teeniest degree of creativity jumps recklessly into the realm of the verse. Whereas bad fiction merely annoys, bad poetry provokes. I feel like hurling the book against the wall whenever I encounter a bad poem. With bad fiction, I merely shrug, grit my teeth a little bit and put the book away.

Poetry is a medium that achieves (or at least aims to achieve) a lot more with the very few. Whenever you try to express yourself among the confines of meter and rhyme while trying to construct a lyrical backbone (not that any of these are needed for poetry - they just happen to be the most common features), you run the risk of sounding either too shallow or just plain shitty.

Fiction offers the comfortable cushion of unlimited words and offers complete freedom. The whole wide green pastures are yours. The cushion of words masks mediocre fiction much more easily, and that is why I don't feel as much pain while reading bad fiction.

So it is natural that I get terribly excited when I meet a particularly good piece of poetry. Case in point: Mr. Tomas Transtromer, the newly minted Nobel laureate in literature.
TT is the first Swede to win the prize in some 40 years. Apparently, he was a perennial favorite throughout the 90's, but never got his chance. Until last week. I am a proud Nobel prize geek and the literature prize is the one I eagerly await, because it introduces me to new genres, new authors and new themes. After the prize was announced, blogs and newspapers published samples of TT's poems. TT explores the theme of humans vs. nature in the modern society and has written on seemingly non-lyrical topics like national security.

Here are two of his poems that I found particularly striking:

National Insecurity
The Under Secretary leans forward and draws an X
and her ear-drops dangle like swords of Damocles.
As a mottled butterfly is invisible against the ground
so the demon merges with the opened newspaper.
A helmet worn by no one has taken power.
The mother-turtle flees flying under the water.

Allegro
I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in my hands.

The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike.
The resonance green, lively, and calm.

The music says freedom exists
and someone doesn't pay the emperor tax.

I push down my hands in my Haydnpockets
and imitate a person looking on world calmly.

I hoist the Haydnflag––it signifies:
"We don't give in. But want peace."

The music is a glass-house on the slope
where the stones fly, the stones roll.

And the stones roll right through
but each pane stays whole.

Tomas Tranströmer - Allegro (2)
Translated from the Swedish by May Swenson and Leif Sjöberg

I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in by hands.

The keyboard is willing. Mild hammers strike.
The sound is green, lively tranquil.

The sound says that freedom exists,
that someone does not pay Caesar's tax.

I put my hands in by Haydn-pockets
and pretend to take a cool look at the world.

I hoist the Haydn-flag––it indicates:
"We won't surrender. But want peace."

Music is a glass house on the hillside
where stones fly, stones crash.

And the stones crash straight through glass,
but the house remains whole.  

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