The Swedish Academy has just awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature 2011 to Swedish poet, writer and translator (and psychologist) Tomas Tranströmer ‘because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality’. His win means, hopefully, that lots of readers will seek fresh access to his work, which is mainly verse. Among the works available in English are ‘The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems’, translated by Robin Fulton (New Directions, 2006) and ‘New Collected Poems’, (also translated by Robin Fulton, Bloodaxe Books, 2011). Though widely respected in the poetry world, Tranströmer is largely unknown outside his native Sweden.
In recent years his focus has shifted from traditional, though carefully constructed nature poetry toward a darker-hued but more open verse style. The philosophical drive of his recent poetry will have appealed to the Nobel judges, as the Literature prize values writers whose writing moves ‘in an ideal direction’ – that is, they are looking for evidence of moral idealism and political bravery, as well as clever wordsmithery. The names of the nominees and other information about the nominations cannot be revealed until 50 years after a winner is announced, so the names of the authors competing with Tranströmer are shrouded in mystery. Earlier this week Nobel literature prize favourites at the bookies included Adonis (Syria), Haruki Murakami (Japan), Bob Dylan (U.S.), Assia Djebar (Algeria), Peter Nadas (Hungary), Ko Un (South Korea), Les Murray (Australia), Thomas Pynchon (U.S.), Philip Roth (U.S.), and Nuruddin Farah (Somalia) – as well as Tranströmer. The bookies favourite was Dylan, though he was always an outsider for a prize that numbers among its winners the likes of Octavio Paz, T.S. Eliot and Albert Camus.
But, says Time Out Books editor Chris Moss, ‘the Swedish Academy is famous – notorious even – for choosing seeming outsiders. Wislawa Szymborska won in 1996, Imre Kertész in 2002 and Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio as recently as 2008. All of these are great writers, but none of them enjoyed a worldwide audience before the prize –nor, if we’re honest, afterwards.’ In any case, Tranströmer wins 10 million Swedish kronor – about £947,000. Last year’s prize was awarded to Peruvian writer, politician, journalist, essayist, and one-time Peruvian presidential candidate, Mario Vargas Llosa.
For info, see nobelprize.org.