I was pleased to wake up the other morning to hear that Tomas Transtromer had won the Nobel prize in literature. I’m currently in kind of an anti-Nobel prize mood, aware of its many flops, the political and cultural biases that influence even the science awards, and irritated that the whole system is silly enough to not even have an award for mathematics, not to mention its neglect of engineering. But the awards do give me an opportunity to study up and learn about somebody that I probably don’t know anything about. During my lifetime, the only literature winner that I was aware of before their winning the award was Orhan Pamuk. I knew nothing of Transtromer. Yet the description in the New York Times of Transtromer–“a Swedish poet whose sometimes bleak but graceful work explores themes of isolation, emotion and identity while remaining rooted in the commonplace”–certainly appeals to me. I could use a little more bleakness than what I am getting in San Diego. After all, I once quipped to John Lyon that I only experience grace in cold weather.
The announcement of Transtromer’s award came while my poetry mood has been in a revival. During a recent meet and greet at work, I discovered a coworker’s life dream is to publish a book of poetry, her dream rekindled my own interest in poetry. Some 15 years ago I started writing poetry, a regular path to mental solace until my muse dried up about seven years ago, fueled in parat by criticism of amateur poets by elitists seeking to keep the cult pure. I’d like to start writing some verse, images mainly, brief explorations of my bleak innerscape balanced by small sketches of our soothing landscape, and I bought a little black sketchpad a month ago at the UCSD bookstore for this purpose. I haven’t written anything yet. Perhaps an easier first step for me would be to start reading some poetry again. I took Gary Snyder’s Danger on Peaks to work, hoping to catch a poem or two at work, although I haven’t yet managed to read so much as a stanza at my office. At home I have read some poetry. When Wendy was out of town a few weeks ago I pulled out my copy of White Apples and the Taste of Stone by Donald Hall and read “Her Long Illness,” a perhaps less than optimal selection while my wife was out of town. Before breakfast on Friday I wandered over to my poetry shelf and fingered texts by Mary Karr and Franz Wright before pulling out Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye. But I didn’t read much. My mind was too scattered, probably an indication that I actually need to be reading poetry, perhaps some verse exploring, isolation, emotion, and identity.