Nobel Laureate Tomas Tranströmer at the Fine Arts Work Center
In the late seventies and early eighties, the Work Center received an NEA grant to bring in visiting writers for weeks at a time. Raymond Carver, Marilyn Hacker, and Tomas Tranströmer were among them.
Tomas came for two weeks in successive years (1979-80 and 1980-81) and stayed in Hudson D. Walker's house in the East End, occasionally loaned for Work Center use by the ever-generous Walker family.
He was the most generous and friendly of visitors, always ready with a laugh or a new poem, which he translated himself, to show to the Writing Fellows for their opinions.
He loved to frequent Cookie’s Tap. There we discussed Montale’s first book, Ossi di Seppia – Cuttlefish Bones, the cuttlefish being a close relative of the squid. One day he happily announced he had found the perfect dinner: “Squid Stew and an order of fava beans!”
Tomas’s wife, Monika, came with him for the second visit. After I picked them up at the airport, and as we were driving through town, Tomas pointed out a pedestrian, bundled up in a hooded sweatshirt, and said to her, “This is a typical inhabitant of this town.”
On April 15, 1981 at the Walker House, we celebrated his birthday. James Tate and his then wife, Liselotte, who was Swedish, made a big Swedish feast. Tomas was full of good cheer, but then he was always full of good cheer. He was well-loved by everyone, and welcomed into the homes of our Committee members and to the Fellows’ studios.
And we loved his poems as well. Michael Burkard, Keith Althaus, and I still discuss his work at length. Just last year, Michael gave me three new books, Notes from the Land of Lap Fever; Baltics (with photographs); and Prison, all published by Tavern Books.
Jean Valentine called me when she learned of his death. Naturally, the call was somber at the start as we mourned his loss, but soon we were telling stories about him and laughing—she recalled how he entered a restaurant in New York where a serious group of poets were reverentially waiting for his appearance, and how he leaped over the back of chair and into the seat!
He was a great poet, and he had a great view of what poetry can do to make a community, and for those weeks, he was a magnificent member of ours. He has written: “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.”
—John Skoyles (former Executive Director and Writing Chair; Writing Fellow 1974-1975, 1975-1976)
No visitor to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown was ever more beloved than Tomas Tranströmer. He came in 1979 and again in 1980, during John Skoyles’s term as Writing Chair, both times for two weeks, the second occasioning a pilgrimage from Fellows such as Michael Burkard and Tom Sleigh, and no doubt others. His no-less wonderful, beautiful wife, Monika Bladh, stayed with him that second time at Munro Moore’s Bull Ring Wharf. His first visit was spent at Hudson D. Walker’s home in the East End, where many memorable gatherings took place.
No dearer, wryer, kinder, funnier, wiser, more whimsical spirit ever graced this planet, a benign man indeed, but he did, he did hate tyrants. One fine day after he had climbed the Pilgrim Monument with one of the Fellows and they were strolling toward the meat-rack – Josip Broz Tito was dying, had been dying, dying, interminably dying, day after day of front page bulletins, newsprint blowing under benches, sailing in the trees – all of a sudden, with ringing glee, Tomas crowed at top voice volume that must have stirred the gulls to kinship on Long Point:
“And Tito? Howww is Teeetohhh doinnnggggg todaaaay?”
All eyes went to the smiling stranger, but no answer ever came.
Tomas is survived as well by two daughters, Emma and Paula.
—Roger Skillings (former Writing Chair; Writing Fellow 1969-1970, 1970-1971)