The great Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer — one of my personal top ten favorite poets of the 20th century — sadly passed away in March, but he left behind an impressive body of work, including a 30-minute film based on Baltic Seas which he collaborated on with director James Wine. Moving Poems readers will remember Cheryl Gross’s glowing review from this past January. James wrote me a few days ago to pass along the link to a special in memoriam page where Östersjöar can be seen in its entirety. Visitors are encouraged to share their thoughts and impressions, as well.
I hope James won’t mind if I share a bit of his letter. He indicated that this is a rough draft for background “director’s notes” to be officially released soon:
When we first made this filmpoem back in early 1990s, Tomas & I talked about film and voice. About Rilke’s excitement for the “wire recorder” for poetry and the early essay by Octavio Paz that said poets would inevitably explore film, television and computers.
Tomas used to say that sometimes readers should have a film projector on their heads to read his poems. He played with the juxtapositioning of close-ups and wide roaming angles in his poems. Moving images are throughout his works. He thought most contemporary poetry was influenced by films, as are our dreams. In “Östersjöar” he even uses the term “close-ups.” He thought it would make an interesting study to compare poetry today with that of 200 years ago, observing the influences of photography and film upon poetry.
Tomas said this poem was his “most consistent effort to compose music.” Every image, every word has “tonal” equivalences, harmonics and counterpoints, in this poem, which he a called “a bag into which I put everything.”
Recently, the longtime Tranströmer reader Helen Vendler put it this way to us: “It’s a poem that lacks nothing.”
Indeed. Poetry, music, images still and moving – all elements of the translation of that “original poem in silence” that Tomas always cited.
Poetry is not to be explained, rather its experience explored. And in this new version we explored early drafts of the poem, checking its “documentary” nature with Tomas as we went along. This revealed many new insights, some things he could only grasp intuitively when he wrote the poem in 1973.
“He thought most contemporary poetry was influenced by films, as are our dreams.” It’s worth remembering here that Tranströmer’s day job was as a psychologist. He was also a pianist, whence in part his strong feeling for music.