the prize went to poetry

Nobel goes to a poet–sense of proprietary pride every time this happens. Tomas Transtömer. His wife: “She said that, most of all, Tranströmer was happy that the prize went to poetry for the first time since Wislawa Szymborska of Poland won in 1996.” A what-to-read-of-his roundup on Slate.

I’m going to quote the entirety of his poem “Outskirts” here, from poets.org.


Men in overalls the same color as earth rise from a ditch.
It’s a transitional place, in stalemate, neither country nor city.
Construction cranes on the horizon want to take the big leap,
but the clocks are against it.
Concrete piping scattered around laps at the light with cold tongues.
Auto-body shops occupy old barns.
Stones throw shadows as sharp as objects on the moon surface.
And these sites keep on getting bigger
like the land bought with Judas’ silver: “a potter’s field for
burying strangers.”

by Tomas Tranströmer
translated by Robert Bly

More from the NYT:

Much of Mr. Transtromer’s work, including “The Half-Finished Heaven,” was translated by his close friend and fellow poet Robert Bly. Mr. Bly has been named as one of the central people who introduced Mr. Transtromer to a small but devoted group of American readers.

The Bly sound of the translation–that school of somewhat driftily mopey death-loving nature-oriented short sad lyric “Deep Image” writing, so influential, that one of my professors used to call “bones, stones, darkness”–in poems like “After a Death” sets my teeth on edge a bit. For example: “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.” I’ve been trained to eschew Bly wherever I find him, such as that Larry Levis poem where he feels like a bunch of empty cattle yards. He (Bly) was simply too influential and had too many people imitating him. I would like to read some of the other translations of Transtromer to see what they’re like.

In other news:

Nobel peace prize: 3 women.

Mike Daisey altering his monologue show, “The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs,” in response to Jobs’s death (NYT, via ArtsJournal):

“In a telephone interview, Mr. Daisey said that the death of Mr. Jobs “is of such importance that it absolutely has to be addressed because it heightens the importance of talking about his legacy.” Mr. Daisey, an acclaimed monologist who performs his works extemporaneously, rather than with a prepared script, said that he did not plan to add a new scene or epilogue but rather infuse the entire work with perspectives about the capacity of Mr. Jobs’s influence to continue, even in death, through Apple products.”

Thursday was the day of sci-fi and fantasy on the Warsaw metro; there was a man reading one of the George R. R. Martin novels on a Kindle (in English) and a woman reading the Lord of the Rings (in Polish) in book form. I had to resist the temptation to say “Winter is coming” to the Martin guy as I stepped off the train at Dworzec Gdański.

The trees around here look like bunches of old parsley, turning yellow. People are determinedly raking the leaves off the pathways. (I’m now feeling a bit paranoid about Robert Bly everywhere–perhaps I should avoid saying anything about nature for a few days.)