New Laureate to Accept Prize Musically

Last week we reported on the betting frenzy surrounding the lead-up to the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The frontrunner was the Syrian poet Adonis, although there were serious pushes for Philip Roth and Bob Dylan too. In the end, the actual winner, announced on Thursday, surprised everyone. Swede Tomas Tranströmer, a psychologist by profession, known for the still, crystalline quality of his verse, is the first poet Nobel laureate since the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska won 15 years ago. Several of his titles are available in English, and - perhaps not entirely uncoincidentally - a new edition of his Collected Poems has only recently been published. In 1990, a stroke left him mute and able to use only one hand. A lifelong pianist, he continued to play the piano one-handed and will perform on the piano, instead of delivering the usual oration, when he accepts the prize in December.

The poet’s win has seen the hype machine kick into overdrive, delivering lavish panegyrics about a poet who, until last Thursday, was largely unknown outside Sweden. In the New York Review of Books, Tim Parks explains how the Nobel Prize for Literature works, reminding us along the way of “the essential silliness of the prize and our own foolishness at taking it seriously”. In a comparative review essay in the same publication, Helen Vendler finds parallels between the two most recent poet Nobel laureates, Tranströmer and Szymborska.

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