Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tomas Tranströmer Channels Vermeer

Postings this week will include selections from Art and Artists: Poems, an anthology of ekphrastic poems by Emily Fragos, Knopf, 2012. We’ll start with “Vermeer” by Tomas Tranströmer.

Winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature, Tranströmer is one of the most celebrated poets of his generation. He was born in Stockholm in 1931 and educated at the Södra Latin School and the University of Stockholm, where he received a degree in psychology. He began his career as a psychologist in the early 1960s at Roxtuna, a juvenile corrections institute in Sweden, and worked for several decades in the field. Of his 13 books of poetry in English, the most recent is The Deleted World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011). Tranströmer lives with his wife Monica in Vasteras, west of Stockholm.

The Little Street

Trans. by Samuel Charters 
No sheltered world . . . on the other side of the wall 
        the noise begins
the tavern begins
with laughter and bickering, rows of teeth, tears, 
        the din of bells
and the mentally disordered brother-in-law, the bearer
        of death that everyone must tremble for.

The great explosion and the delayed tramp of rescuers
the boats that strut at anchor, the money that creeps
        into the pocket of the wrong person
demands piled on demands
Cusps of gaping red flowers that sweat premonitions 
        of war.
The Music Lesson

Away from there and straight through the wall 
        into the bright studio
into the second that goes on living for hundreds 
        of years.
Paintings titled The Music Lesson
or Woman in Blue Reading a Letter --
she's in her eighth month, two hearts kicking 
        inside her.
On the wall behind her hangs a wrinkled map of 
       Terra Incognita.

Breathe calmly . . . An unknown blue material is nailed
       to the chair.
The gold upholstery tacks flew in with unheard-of speed
The Art of Painting
and stopped abruptly
as if they had never been anything but stillness.

The ears ring with either depth or height.
It's the pressure from the other side of the wall
that leaves every fact suspended
and holds the brush steady.

It hurts to go through walls, it makes you sick
but it's necessary.
The world is one. But walls . . .
And the wall is part of yourself --
Whether you know it or not it's the same for everyone,
everyone except little children. No walls for them.

The clear sky has set itself on a slant against the wall.
It's like a prayer to emptiness.
And the emptiness turns its face to us
and whispers,
"I am not empty, I am open."

ekphrastic poems painters poets

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