Poets have been gracious about the prize winner. Former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove was quoted in The Washington Post as saying: “I couldn’t be happier with the news. Awarding Transtromer the Nobel was long overdue.”
But journalists are a little more cynical (as one would expect), and the novelist Philip Hensher points out in The Telegraph that a Swede has won for the ninth time in the Nobel’s 110 years.
He joins those other mighty masters of world literature, Bjornsterne Bjornson, Selma agerlof, Verner von Heidenstam, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Par Lagerkvist, Nelly Sachs, Eyvind Johnson, Harry Martinson.”
Transtromer’s poetry has been translated into English. New Directions is reissuing his recent collection, The New Enigma, and Greywolf has kept in print The Half-Finished Heaven: Best Poems of Tomas Transtromer.
Here is a translation by Robert Bly of Transtromer’s poem “After a Death.”
Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.
One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.
It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.
[P.S. Dear Nobel People. Updike died and Roth is getting older. If you don’t intend to give the prize to Roth, then please give it to another American, or, here’s a thought, to a Canadian writer. There are many, many great English writers in the Western Hemisphere.]
NEW BOOKS. There are several new books I’m yearning to read.
1. The Life of Charles Dickens: The Illustrated Edition. An abridged edition of John Forster’s 3-volume biography of Dickens, with a preface by Jane Smiley. It’s one of those very big annotated edition with original illustrations and photographs. Forster was a good friend of Dickens. This is on my Xmas list: next year is Dickens’s bicentenary.
2. Ghost Lights by Lydia Millet. Millet’s last novel, How the Dead Dream, dealt with environmental issues; she often interweaves politics with magic realism. Her new book is apparently a kind of sequel to How the Dead Dream. The blurb below is copied from Amazon:
“Hal is a mild-mannered IRS bureaucrat who suspects that his wife is cheating with her younger, more virile coworker. At a drunken dinner party, Hal volunteers to fly to Belize in search of Susan’s employer, T.—the protagonist of Lydia Millet’s much-lauded novel How the Dead Dream—who has vanished in a tropical jungle, initiating a darkly humorous descent into strange and unpredictable terrain.”
3. The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector. Lispector was a famous Brazilian writer, and New Directions is publishing a new translation of her last novel. Here’s a paragaraph from the New Directions website.
“The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector’s consummate final novel, may well be her masterpiece. Narrated by the cosmopolitan Rodrigo S.M., this brief, strange, and haunting tale is the story of Macabéa, one of life’s unfortunates. Living in the slums of Rio and eking out a poor living as a typist, Macabéa loves movies, Coca-Cola, and her rat of a boyfriend; she would like to be like Marilyn Monroe, but she is ugly, underfed, sickly, and unloved.”