SELECTED POEMS by Tomas TranstrÖmer


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Scottish poet Fulton (who betrays his Highlands background by his frequent use of the word ""croft"" here) has assembled a large sampling of Swedish poet TranstrÖmer's work, ranging over two decades. Exactly how good these translations are is, for non-Swedish readers, hard to say--but chances are they're quite good. Early poems revolve around a tight imagism TranstrÖmer carries along with him wherever he goes (travel and exposure to foreign elements are recurring subjects). ""When We Saw the Islands Again"" operates like a ravenously zooming-in lens as the poem uncannily suggests the actual physical nearing to a beloved place. (Later island-poems, like the more ambitious and longer ""Baltics,"" are less effective.) The work of the Sixties becomes looser of focus, more surreal, and some of these qualities carry over into the calmer work of the Seventies and produce such fine poems as ""Preludes"" and ""The Book Case."" Despite a skillful and striking personal iconography, however, a little TranstrÖmer, at least in English, goes a long way. His poetry is humane, the work of a musician and traveler (hence someone who can wait out a measure, someone attractively slow to prejudge)--but, in sum, it seems content to set a few odd-shaped images against a flat horizon line and leave it at that. W. S. Merwin, in the US, could serve as a reference-point to TranstrÖmer's voice--but Merwin at least often achieves a drone that works itself up into eeriness. TranstrÖmer, on the other hand, seems simply to lie low, making poetry that's dangerously easy to miss and forget.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Ardis