Sunday, 30 June 2013


I've now finished Airmail: the Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Tranströmer (Bloodaxe, 2013, 476pp), and found it an absorbing if rather lengthy read. The letters are a mixture of the personal and the literary, and while it's interesting to follow the careers and private lives of two men, most of the really attention-grabbing passages occur in connection with the problems of literary translation. This was a two-way process, for each poet translated work by the other: the result is a kind of poetic table-tennis match, with poems constantly in transit between English and Swedish, and the inevitable occasional misreadings and misunderstandings flowing out into bursts of creative energy which save the texts as poems in the "other" language. Some of the interchanges read like almost like language lessons, but the tension thus caused is nearly always defused by humour and wit. Although a few of the finished poems are reproduced in the volume, it would have been nice to have more of the completed translations to compare with the collaborative editing process that's revealed in the letters. Though this would have added to the length of the volume, the inclusion of more actual poems might have been preferable to the often less interesting career-related letters (with details of tours, readings, etc.) that occupy many of the pages.

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