Nobel literature prize for poet unable to speak for the last two decades


Arifa Akbar
Wednesday 26 October 2011 13:55

A Swedish poet who all but lost the power of speech after suffering a stroke more than 20 years ago plans to accept the grandest prize in literature by way of a piano recital.

Tomas Tranströmer, 80, was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature after the Swedish Academy praised him because, "through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality." The poet, who lost the use of his right arm after the stroke in 1990, is a keen pianist. Swedish musicians have adapted for him compositions designed to be played with one hand.

Neil Astley, the poet's friend and the founding editor of Bloodaxe, Tranströmer's British publisher, said the Swede often expressed himself through music, and anticipated a performance at the Nobel ceremony.

"I imagine he'll be in a wheelchair, and he will speak to people through the piano," he said. Mr Astley said Tranströmer's latest poetry collection had sold out within hours of the announcement. More than 300 orders were placed straight away. The writer had previously sold around 4,000 poetry collections in the past 25 years in Britain.

As Sweden's most famous poet, Tranströmer has often been named among the favourites for the 10 million kronor (£950,000) Nobel Prize. Swedish press has often camped outside his apartment in Stockholm, hours before the Nobel announcement in anticipation of a domestic victory.

Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said the Academy had been wary of accusations of favouritism.

"I think we've been quite thoughtful and haven't been rash... He's writing about big questions. He's writing about death, he's writing about history and memory and nature," he said.

Born in Stockholm in 1931, Tranströmer was raised alone by his mother, a teacher. He started writing poetry while studying and debuted with the collection "Seventeen Poems" at the age of 23. As a trained psychologist, he has divided his time between poetry and work in institutions for juvenile offenders, with the disabled and with drug addicts.

His love for nature and music has guided his writing and his poems have, over the decades, became darker, filled with existential questions, death and disease. Since the 1950's, Tranströmer has had a close friendship with American poet, Robert Bly, who translated many of his works into English. His works have been translated into more than 50 languages and influenced poets around the globe.

Anna Tillgren, of the poet's Swedish publisher, Bonniers, said that, despite the difficulty Tranströmer has speaking, he had uttered two words after learning about his prize: "Very good."

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