Poet of the Week: Tomas Tranströmer
The first time I read the poetry of Tomas Tranströmer, I knew I had met a kindred spirit. He creates a mood that I understand even though my experiences and direct culture are not exactly the same. I had this same feeling when I read Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove. I think there are a few reasons for why I feel this kinship.
Tranströmer lived his life (1931-2015) in Stockholm, Sweden and is one of his country's most well-known poets. Both of my grandfathers were Swedish. Although neither lived in Sweden and both were older than Tranströmer (my paternal grandfather was born in 1910, and my maternal grandfather in 1922), there was an immediate connection for me when I read his poetry. It simply resonated with what I knew about both of my grandfathers and how their beliefs and attitudes were transferred to the next generation.
Tranströmer is a "Swedish lyrical poet noted for his spare by resonant language, particularly his unusual metaphors--more transformative than substitutive--which have been associated with a literary surrealism."
Many Swedish immigrants came to Minnesota. Although I have never been to Sweden, it is my understanding that my home state and this country are similar in its weather. Many of Tranströmer's poems reflect the dark, bleak, cold environment where he lived. The first time I read "Autumn in the Skerries," I felt "awake in the dark," knew those "half-choked summer gods," and understood how "the earth is blind in darkness" because I had experienced it many times myself even if a lake is much smaller than "September's sea."
One of poetry's strangest powers is its ability to draw out the great and wonderful from the mundane. Tomas Tranströmer has this ability in spades.
Theme and Tone
To be honest, many people of Scandinavian decent are melancholy. If I have any ounce of optimism, I inherited it from my English maternal grandmother. Yet, it is from my ability to see the chiaroscuro of experience that allows me to express depth and perspective in my writing. I am able to see the joy in the sorrow. The themes and tone of light and dark appear in many of Tranströmer's poems. I will share my favorite one tomorrow. This is an important theme for Scandinavians because much of the year is cold and dark. When I studied Scandinavian decorating around the time we bought our current home, I realized the importance of light in choosing colors and adding illumination. This idea is reflected in Tranströmer's poetry as well. The reason he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011 was "because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality." His interests in nature and music are similar to my own. But, his personal perspective shines through his work as a psychologist and as a stroke survivor. It was after the latter when he needed to give up the former that his work shifted. This is a topic I will cover later in the week.
I will end with a quote from Tranströmer that describes what I love and admire about his poetry because it is through his poetry that we get a glimpse of who he was as a person and a poet.
Every person is a half-opened door leading to a room for everyone.