The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems
by Tomas Transtromer
Tickling the Literary Palate
A review by Chris Faatz
are lots and lots of books that are published into the great silence of dusty
bookshop shelves and reviewers' forgotten back corners each year. And, I'd
be willing to bet the proverbial dollar to the proverbial donut that poetry
finds itself in this predicament more than virtually any other genre. And, it's
a shame. Just like it's a shame that there's not really a large general
readership for poetry. Believe it or not, the books are out there -- however
you feel personally about it, sales of Garrison Keillor's
anthology Good Poems speaks
eloquently to that fact -- all that they're lacking for are readers.
are, however, a few books that lift their heads above the waters, however
briefly. In the past year, at Powell's, we've seen remarkable success
with Richard Jones's stellar Apropos of
Nothing and Linda Gregg's In the
Middle Distance. Two books that I wish we'd done better with are Benjamin Alire Saenz's Dreaming
the End of War and Luis Rodriguez's My Nature Is Hunger.
it's a new year, and a new pile of books to winnow through. Winnow
through with joy, of course -- I can't think of a more pleasant vocation.
that really stands out, right from the beginning, is Tomas Transtromer's The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems. Transtromer needs little introduction; the great Swedish poet
has been consistently translated into English for years, and has been championed
by many, not the least of whom is Robert Bly.
I tried to approach The Great Enigma
as though it were a new book, by
a new poet -- someone unheard of, a fresh, new voice on the block. The fact
that I'd read but little of his work before made this a pretty easy task.
a reward it was. The Great Enigma is
truly a fantastic book of poems,
lovingly translated and rendered into English by Robin Fulton, and demonstrating
a completely unique geography of the imagination that leaves the
reader gasping, eagerly turning the page to discover the beauty and wonder
of each new foray into language.
beautiful and wonderful they are. On balance, most of the poems are either
quite short (although, there's a transcendent long poem called "Baltics"), some even following the Haiku form, or that
of prose poems. The thing they all share is that they're heavily image-driven.
Again and again, Transtromer delicately delivers
something entirely and freshly new to tickle his reader's literary palate. Try this for example:
are bare winter days when the sea is kin to
mountain country, crouching in grey plumage, a grief
minute blue, long hours with waves like pale lynxes
vainly seeking hold in the beach gravel.
a day wrecks might come from the sea searching for
their owners, settling in the town's din, and drowned crews
blow landward, thinner than pipe smoke.
real lynxes are in the north, with sharpened claws and
dreaming eyes. In the north, where day lives in
a mine both day and night.
the sole survivor may sit at the
borealis stove and listen to the
music of those frozen to death.)
are populated by the sea, by the coast, and by the woods
and darkness of his native Sweden. He apparently worked most of his life as
a psychologist, thus, perhaps, his fascination with things that might
have arisen only from dreams, from the archetypal forms that lie deep,
deep within us all.
spring and the air is very strong. I have graduated from the university
of oblivion and am as empty-handed as the shirt on the clothesline."
Ah, I wish all poetry was this good