Graywolf to reprint book by Nobel-winning Swedish poet

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  • October 6, 2011 - 6:57 PM


 Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer at his home in Stockholm on Thursday. AP photo by Fredrik Sandberg.

News of a Nobel Prize for Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer was met with cheers in Minneapolis.

In 2001, Minneapolis-based Graywolf Press published “The Half-Finished Heaven, The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer,” a collection selected and translated by Minnesota poet Robert Bly. Alas, the Nobel announcement came at a moment when about 5,000 copies of the Graywolf book were in circulation. Normally, that might be a 10-year supply for a poetry book, but the Nobel creates abnormal demand. 

By Thursday afternoon,"Heaven" had climbed into the top 20 on, said Jeffrey Shotts a Graywolf senior editor who worked on the book.

Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae said on Thursday that the book will get a reprint of 10,000 copies to meet immediate demand. A second reprint will follow.

Shotts said Micawbers bookstore in St. Paul was reporting "Tranströmer mania today," and that it was gratifying to see a poet win the Nobel, "the first time that has happened in 15 years." 

The Nobel news delighted Shotts. “It has confirmed and celebrated what many have known for a long time — that Tomas Tranströmer sits alongside contemporary poets such as Seamus Heaney and Wislawa Szymborska as among our most essential global voices,” he said in a statement. “His writing is a powerful, psychological, probing of the landscapes, interior and otherwise, of a 20th-century Scandinavia that has survived war and disaster but also provides new possibilities.”

Bly, a longtime friend as well as one of Tranströmer’s first translators, chose what he viewed as the best of Tranströmer’s poems to fill “The Half-Finished Heaven.” In his introduction to the book, Bly wrote that Tranströmer “has a strange genius for the image; images rise seemingly without effort on his part.... His poems are a sort of railway station where trains that have come enormous distances stand briefly in the same building. One train may have some Russian snow on the undercarriage, and another may have Mediterranean flowers fresh in the compartments, and Ruhr soot on the roofs.”

Shott recalled a crowded event at the Swedish American Institute back in 2001 to mark the book's publication. "Bly was there," Shott said, "and then he read some poems in Swedish, which people loved."

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