Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tomas who?

More than one reader of this blog has expressed bewilderment at the large lead that Tomas Transtromer has taken in our 'greatest living writer' poll. 'Who the Dickens is Transtromer?' one reader asks, 'And how is he winning? He's not one of your hoaxes is he, a new Ern Malley designed to discredit readers of your own blog?'

Jack Ross may have had doubts about the ontological status of his poll rival, but he was sharp enough to do some research: a quick google search showed him that Tomas Transtromer did indeed exist, albeit in the wilds of Sweden. Jack is now reduced to explaining the handsome lead Tomas enjoys over him as the product of a national chauvinist conspiracy of Swedish and Finno-Swedish readers of this blog. Alas, the tracking gear installed by Muzzlehatch shows that only a handful of Swedes and Finns have visited this site.

Perhaps those puzzled by Transtromer's eminence will have to think the unthinkable, and consider that he might have some English-language fans? Transtromer is actually amongst the most widely translated living European poets: at last count, he had made it into 46 languages besides Swedish. He is especially popular in the United States, where he has strongly influenced Robert Bly and a phalanx of younger poets. Critics who can read Transtromer in Swedish say that his relatively simple syntax and reliance on strong, strange imagery make him easy to bring into other languages.

I confess to having been a Transtromer fan for many years, though I'm less than happy with the prospect of him winning our poll. The prize for the man or woman annointed the greatest living writer is two flagons of Old Thumper Ale, and frankly I don't like the idea of paying to send the booze all the way to the Arctic Circle or thereabouts. I was rather hoping that our own Jack Ross might win the poll, for three reasons. In the first place, Jack is a mate of mine; secondly, and more importantly, I owe him some beers anyway; thirdly, and even more importantly, he lives a few miles away, and if he wins I can keep postage costs to a minimum. But who am I to argue with the wisdom of this blog's readers?

For those who haven't had the pleasure of reading Transtromer, here's a poem which he first published in 1970 and has described as a critique of certain aspects of modern Swedish society. It was translated by Robert Bly.


We are at a party which doesn't love us. Finally the party lets the mask fall and shows what it is: a shunting station for freight cars. In the fog cold giants stand on their tracks. A scribble of chalk on the car doors.
One can't say it aloud, but there is a lot of repressed violence here. That is why the furnishings seem so heavy. And why it is difficult to see the other thing present: a spot of sun that moves over the house walls and over the unaware forest of flickering faces, a biblical saying never let down: "Come unto me, for I am as full of contradictions as you"
I work the next morning in a different town. I drive there in a hum through the dawning hour which resembles a dark blue cylinder. Orion hangs over the frost. Children stand in a silent clump, waiting for the school bus, the children no one prays for. The light grows as gradually as our hair.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Transtromer FOREVER!


I am yours etc

2:01 pm  
Anonymous Jack Ross said...

I don't recall ever expressing a doubt as to the objective existence of Transtromer -- as for the ontological status of M. Sanjay Wells, I must confess a certain scepticism.

In any case, whoever wins this thrilling contest, I've decided that I am prepared to donate my services as honorary recipient of the aforesaid flagons of Old Thumper on behalf of any international victors (possibly with the able assistance of Muzzlehatch and/or Mr Hamilton).

Counter-offer, anyone?

12:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Jack Ross, I voted for Tomas Transtromer because he tells the truth, and the truth is the truth in any language, even in Swedish.

6:03 pm  

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