By: Joanna Penn Cooper
I am so happy to hear that Tomas Tranströmer has won the Nobel Prize. I was introduced to his work by an MFA mentor, Malena Mörling (another poetry crush). With a light touch, Tranströmer’s work helps me understand myself and the world and poetry in a deep way, a way that goes beyond everyday, rational thinking. He trained as a psychologist, and whenever I think about that fact, I imagine these great counseling sessions with an imaginary Tranströmer, who in this scenario is my deep friend and mentor and psychologist. In our sessions, he reads me poems in his Swedish accent, and we spend time sitting at a simple table in a summer hut in the Swedish woods, even though it is autumn and getting cooler. We stare out the window and stare at the floor, watching late afternoon light move across the wooden floorboards. Tranströmer had a stroke in 1990 that left him largely unable to speak. But this is what poems do, you know? They continue to speak.
In a talk I heard Malena Mörling give about Tomas Tranströmer, she quoted a passage in which he describes the connection between poetry and notes written to school friends: “When I started writing, at sixteen, I had a couple of like-minded school friends. Sometimes, when the lessons seemed more than usually trying, we would pass notes to each other between our desks—poems and aphorisms, which would come back with the more or less enthusiastic comments of the recipient. What an impression those scribblings would make! There is the fundamental situation of poetry. The lesson of official life goes rumbling on. We send inspired notes to one another.”
2 a.m.: moonlight. The train has stopped
out in a field. Far off sparks of light from a town,
flickering coldly on the horizon.
As when a man goes so deep into his dream
he will never remember that he was there
when he returns again to his room.
Or when a person goes so deep into a sickness
that his days all become some flickering sparks, a swarm,
feeble and cold on the horizon.
The train is entirely motionless.
2 o’clock: strong moonlight, few stars.