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The poetic solitude of an accident and a Nobel Prize
by Thanos Kalamidas
2011-10-10 07:10:53
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In early 1990s I had a very bad car accident that nearly took my life and apart from occasional bad back pains that keep me in bed unable to move for days and some nightmares that visit me some nights left me incapable to drive again. According to the witnesses  the whole thing lasted some seconds but for me it was a whole other experience I find difficult to limit in time and space. And please don’t think that I try to explain some kind of metaphysic experience, nothing like that; it was just different and I find it difficult to describe with words.

Then, and it was only a few years ago in a poems collection from Scandinavia I’ve read a poem from a Swedish poet that described in every single detail what I lived; my fears, my resignation when it happened, my solitude while it was happening. And it was especially one verse that said everything, “all slipped free and were left behind, smaller and smaller, further and further away. I was a nobody: a boy in a playground, suddenly surrounded.” How weird now to say that my experience in a car accident was captured so perfectly in a poem but obviously Tomas Tranströmer managed to do so.

Later the same year I found Tomas Tranströmer’s book “The Half-Finished Heaven” and I got to know a little better the man who had captured something so personal and I have to admit that I was pleasurably surprised with his style and somehow minimalistic rhythm to say the most common and everyday life things and I have to admit that a few days ago I was more than happy finding out the Swedish Academy has awarded Tomas Tranströmer with the 2011 Literature Nobel Price.

I presume with the way news and information travels nowadays its simple thing to find all the information you need about the man and his life so I’m not planning to write anything about his life and his work but I hope with his permission I will mention two poems of his I love; and suggest you to look for his books. After all the Swedish Academy except awarding Tomas Tranströmer for his work tried to make people read and enjoy poetry and Tomas Tranströmer is perhaps one of the best people to lead you in the world of contemporary verses

Two Cities

There is a stretch of water, a city on each side
one of them utterly dark, where enemies live.
Lamps are burning in the other.
The well-lit shore hypnotizes the dark shore.

I swim out in a trance
on the glittering dark water.
A steady note of a tuba comes in.
It's a friend's voice: "Take up your grave and walk."

English language translation by Robert Bly.



I was nearly killed here, one night in February.
My car shivered, and slewed sideways on the ice,
right across into the other lane. The slur of traffic
came at me with their lights.

My name, my girls, my job, all
slipped free and were left behind, smaller and smaller,
further and further away. I was a nobody:
a boy in a playground, suddenly surrounded.

The headlights of the oncoming cars
bore down on me as I wrestled the wheel through a slick
of terror, clear and slippery as egg-white.
The seconds grew and grew – making more room for me –
stretching huge as hospitals.

I almost felt that I could rest
and take a breath
before the crash.

Then something caught: some helpful sand
or a well-timed gust of wind. The car
snapped out of it, swinging back across the road.
A signpost shot up and cracked, with a sharp clang,
spinning away in the darkness.

And it was still. I sat back in my seat-belt
and watched someone tramp through the whirling snow
to see what was left of me.

Translated by Robin Robertson

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Emanuel Paparella2011-10-10 12:00:52
Indeed, Thanos, I too saw my own experience of a car accident that almost killed me in that poem. That got me ruminating again on the function of Art or the poetical. When art is whole and complete, deserving of a Noble prize, it does three essential things for us: 1) it reminds us of our solitude, homelessness, radical freedom and the Kierkegaardian dread which they inspire as we confront a world that needs to be attended to and a destiny to be fulfilled, 2) it intimates the transcendent, 3) it is the mirror that allows us to see our face and know our self. Those three are essential to keep us human, more essential in fact than technological innovations and a working economy. Even Marx acknowledged that man is essentially an artist when he makes things and Einstein reminded that science without ethics is ultimately a curse for man. Indeed, what would we be, and what would we do without art and the poetical? We’d become walking zombies and automatons, we’d dehumanize ourselves, destroy the environment, and welcome our own demise as homo sapiens. Thank God for Art.

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