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The Deleted World by Tomas Tranströmer (Enitharmon, 2006)

Our September Poetry Library Book Club had us entering the autumnal and winter landscapes of Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer.  We used Robin Robertson's translations published by Enitharmon in 2006 as The Deleted World and described by Alan Brownjohn in the Times Literary Supplement as "an inspired sampling of key poems from seven of Tranströmer's eleven volumes... from a poet whose own landscapes approach those of Tranströmer's in their bleakness..."

Here is a biography of Tranströmer by Robin Robertson:

"Born in April 1931, an only child, his parents divorced when he was three years old and he was brought up by his mother within the educated working class of Stockholm: a social democratic system infused with the traditional Lutheran ethics of moral compassion and generosity. After graduating he took up a career in psychology, working in a young offenders' institute in Linköping. In 1965 he moved with his wife Monica and their daughters, Paula and Emma, to Västerås, a small town west of Stockholm, where he continued his work with juvenile delinquents, convicts, drug addicts and the physically handicapped. It was during this time that his poetry began to reach its full maturity and an international audience, being translated into more than 40 languages and bringing him a host of awards.
In 1990, however, his life was changed irrevocably by his stroke. While his disability did not end his writing career, it did impair his ability to communicate, and the Tranströmers now live in an apartment in the Södermalm district of Stockholm, near where Tomas lived as a young boy and overlooking the sea-lanes where his grandfather worked as a pilot, guiding the ships through the Stockholm archipelago."
Taken from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/oct/28/featuresreviews.guardianreview31

The publication of Tranströmer first collection 17 poems in 1954 placed him at the forefront of contemporary Swedish poets and he is considered the greatest living Swedish poet, possibly the greatest living Scandinavian poet.  Swedish translator Anne Born has said "he is representative of several other characteristics of Scandinavian poetry: respect and admiration of the natural world, subtle sensitivity of language and an economical style." -- Swedish Book Review

In 2011 Transtömer was awarded the most important award of his career, the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Before we began the close reading and discussion of four poems we listened to a recording of Tranströmer reading one of his poems in Swedish, recorded before his stroke, so that we could hear his voice and the sound of the Swedish language:

We also explained just before the discussion started that translated work presents some complexities for us because it has been filtered through the mind of the translator, in this case the poet Robin Robertson.  When we talk about the poet Tomas Tranströmer's poems we acknowledge that Robin Robertson has brought his own vision to the poems in The Deleted World.

Robertson's translations of Tranströmer came about while holidaying at his Swedish girlfriend Karin Altenberg's family's summer house on an island off the west coast of Sweden.  The weather was bad and there was nothing for them to do but read and write and so together they started to translate poems from a Swedish edition of Tranströmer's poems that were at the house.  Robertson says: "Karin would write out a prose transcription in English, then recite the original poem in Swedish, so I could hear the cadances.  I then produced a first draft - a simple, loose translation - that she checked for lexical or tonal inaccuracies before handing it back.  For every day of rain another poem."--Robin Robertson New York Review of Books

Face to face p17
1. Do you feel that this poem has momentum? If so, how does the poet achieve this momentum, and what effect does it give to the poem?
2. Do you feel that there is anger in the moment when "the earth and I spring at each other"?
3. Do you feel that this might be a poem about being a poet?
4. The colours blaze in the last stanza but the poet doesn't specify which colours. What do you think of this decision by the poet?

A winter night p19
1. What do you make of this personification of the storm?
2. Is the child scared of the storm?  Is the poet scared of the storm?
3. I love the line "The house feels its own constellation of nails / holding the walls together."  Does anyone else especially like that image or is there another image in the poem they especially like?
4. What do you think the "darker storm" in the poems final stanza is referring to?

Fire graffiti - p41
When The Deleted World was published, the translator Robin Fulton, who has translated Tranströmer's collected poems into English, accused Robin Robertson of copying his and Robert Bly's translations.  He published an article in Modern Poetry in Translation and an exchange of letters between Fulton and supporters of Robertson's translations were published in the Times Literary Supplement. Please see the exchange of letters here: 
Fulton's main argument was that "An excessively large number of Robertson's lines are identical to mine in my Tranströmer translations... elsewhere, wittingly or unwittingly, Robertson makes arbitrary changes to the Swedish, a language he does not seem to understand" -- Robin Fulton letter to the TLS 9 February 2007.

We looked at four different translations of the poem Robin Robertson has translated as "Fire graffiti". They were from the following books:

Robin Fulton - New collected poems / TRANSTRÖMER, TOMAS. Rev. expanded ed. -- Tarset, Northumberland : Bloodaxe Books, 2011.

Robert Bly - The half-finished heaven : the best poems of Tomas Tranströmer / TRANSTRÖMER, TOMAS ; Bly, Robert (introduction). -- Saint Paul, Minn. : Graywolf Press, 2001.

John F. Deane - Inspired notes : poems of Tomas Tranströmer : comprising poems from the two volumes The wild marketplace and For the living and the dead / TRANSTRÖMER, TOMAS. -- Dublin : Dedalus Press, 2011.

Brief biographies of the other translators:
Robin Fulton is a Scottish poet and translator who has lived in Norway since 1973 and speaks Swedish fluently.
Robert Bly is an American poet and translator, and Fulton believes his and "Bly's American-English versions... complement each other nicely."-- Modern Poetry in Translation
John F. Deane is an Irish poet published by Carcanet and founder of The Poetry Ireland Review

1. Are you surprised that each translation has a different title?  Do you prefer one to the others?
2. Does Robertson's use of "sparked alight" compared to Fulton and Deane's "sparkled" give the poem a different tone?  (Bly has used "caught fire".  Robertson also uses "flashes" to describe the firefly which the others don't do.)
3. With Robertson's "The night sky lowing" and Bly's "The night's heavens gave off moos" are these two getting at something in the final image that Fulton and Deane have missed with "bellowing" in their translations?
4. What do you make of Robert Bly's "We stole milk from the cosmos" compared to "we milked the cosmos" in the other translations?
5. Comparing Robertson's translations with the others do you think it's just the same and he shouldn't have bothered translating Tranströmer's poems, which Fulton has suggested in his criticism of The Deleted World?

Out in the open p27
1. The poet varies his line lengths throughout the poem. What do you feel is the effect of this when reading or listening to the poem?
2. Do you feel it's possible to get lost in this poem? If so, do you feel the poet wants us to be lost in the poem?
3. Do you feel that the poem is hopeful?
4. The house in the first section is "red-brown and square and solid as a stock cube". Much of the poem's imagery, to me, seems dark and unsettling. Is this a safe house within the poem?
5. Does the middle section feel different to the other two?

We also prepared questions for a fifth poem which we run out of time to discuss:

Sketch in October p33
1. The landscape of this poem seems quite desolate. Do you feel that the poem's message is also desolate?
2. Why do you think the poet uses images of mushrooms in this and the preceding poem? Do you feel that the imagery is used for the same effect in each poem?
3. The second stanza begins, "On the way back, I see mushrooms?" What is the effect of bringing the first person pronoun into the poem here?
4. Does the title help us to understand the poem?

Although nobody at the Book Club spoke Swedish we really felt that Robertson's translations of Tranströmer had precision and finesse, and that he was allowing us to access something of Tranströmer's sensibility.  We were glad to have his translations along with Fulton, Bly's and Deane's.

Some Swedish anthologies in the Poetry Library collection:

1.  Contemporary Swedish poetry / Printz-Pahlson, Goran (introduction). -- London : Anvil Press Poetry in assoc. with Rex Collings, 1980. (Book) Adult anthology

2.  Fire & ice : nine poets from Scandanavia and the north -- Cliffs of Moher, County Clare : Salmon Publishing, 2004. (Book) Adult anthology

3.  Five Swedish poets -- Norwich: Norvik Press, 1997. (Book) Adult anthology

4.  The forest of childhood : poems from Sweden / Smith, William Jay (introduction). -- Minneapolis, MN : New Rivers Press, 1996. (Book) Adult anthology

5.  Friends, you drank some darkness : three Swedish poets : Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelöf, and Tomas Tranströmer / MARTINSON, HARRY ; EKELÖF, GUNNAR ; TRANSTRÖMER, TOMAS. -- Boston, Mass. : Beacon Press, 1975. (Book) Adult anthology

6.  The other side of landscape : an anthology of contemporary Nordic poetry -- New York : Slope Editions, 2006. (Book) Adult anthology

7.  Speak to me: Swedish-language women poets -- New York: The Spirit That Moves Us Press, 1989. (Book) Adult anthology

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