Sunday, November 11, 2007

Inspired Notes

These two paragraphs were in a post at Contest Central, where they are linked to a set of quotations about poetry at a site called fieralingue. Transtrømer's comments (translated by my old friend Judith Moffett, whose science-fiction novels The Ragged World and Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream I highly recommend) nicely disrupt ideas of how poetry ought to "matter" by giving us poetry people a powerful image to describe what we are doing: passing "inspired notes" to each other, under the radar of "official life."

"In my civilization it's customary to describe poetry as discarded, almost moribund, an all-too-exclusive art form, without power to break through. And the poets try to push themselves upon the world of the mass media, to get a few crumbs of attention. I think it is time to emphasize that poetry--in spite of all the bad poets and bad readers -- starts from an advantageous position. A piece of paper, some words: it's simple and practical. It gives independence. Poetry requires no heavy, vulnerable apparatus that has to be lugged around, it isn't dependent on temperamental performers, dictatorial directors, bright producers with irresistible ideas. No big money is at stake. A poem doesn't come in one copy that somebody buys and locks up in a storeroom waiting for its market value to go up; it can't be stolen from a museum or become currency in the buying and selling of narcotics, or get burned up by a vandal.

When I started writing, at 16, 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."

— Tomas Transtrømer. Translated by Judith Moffett. from "Answer to Uj Iras." Ironwood 13 (1979): 38-9.


michi said...

thanks for posting this.

Mark Granier said...

Enjoyed the note. Thanks. One little point:

"No big money is at stake."

There are understatements and there are uber understatements.

Andrew Shields said...

Glad you both liked it. I enjoyed the phrase "uber understatements": both a wonderful contradictory double prefix and a striking use of the German "uber" prefix that continues to make inroads in English!