~ Tomas Tranströmer ~

James Wine’s film Östersjöar available to watch for free in memory of Tomas Tranströmer

The great Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer — one of my personal top ten favorite poets of the 20th century — sadly passed away in March, but he left behind an impressive body of work, including a 30-minute film based on Baltic Seas which he collaborated on with director James Wine. Moving Poems readers will remember Cheryl Gross’s glowing review from this past January. James wrote me a few days ago to pass along the link to a special in memoriam page where Östersjöar can be seen in its entirety. Visitors are encouraged to share their thoughts and impressions, as well.

I hope James won’t mind if I share a bit of his letter. He indicated that this is a rough draft for background “director’s notes” to be officially released soon:

When we first made this filmpoem back in early 1990s, Tomas & I talked about film and voice. About Rilke’s excitement for the “wire recorder” for poetry and the early essay by Octavio Paz that said poets would inevitably explore film, television and computers.

Tomas used to say that sometimes readers should have a film projector on their heads to read his poems. He played with the juxtapositioning of close-ups and wide roaming angles in his poems. Moving images are throughout his works. He thought most contemporary poetry was influenced by films, as are our dreams. In “Östersjöar” he even uses the term “close-ups.” He thought it would make an interesting study to compare poetry today with that of 200 years ago, observing the influences of photography and film upon poetry.

Tomas said this poem was his “most consistent effort to compose music.” Every image, every word has “tonal” equivalences, harmonics and counterpoints, in this poem, which he a called “a bag into which I put everything.”

Recently, the longtime Tranströmer reader Helen Vendler put it this way to us: “It’s a poem that lacks nothing.”

Indeed. Poetry, music, images still and moving – all elements of the translation of that “original poem in silence” that Tomas always cited.

Poetry is not to be explained, rather its experience explored. And in this new version we explored early drafts of the poem, checking its “documentary” nature with Tomas as we went along. This revealed many new insights, some things he could only grasp intuitively when he wrote the poem in 1973.

“He thought most contemporary poetry was influenced by films, as are our dreams.” It’s worth remembering here that Tranströmer’s day job was as a psychologist. He was also a pianist, whence in part his strong feeling for music.

The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: “Östersjöar” (“Baltic Seas”)


Watch the full-length film at Vimeo On Demand (enter the code “movingpoems” for a free, 2-day rental through Jan. 31).

Poem by Tomas Tranströmer
Filmed by Eva Jonasson and James Michael Wine
Original score by Charlie Wine
Longwalks Productions website

This is probably the longest yet most beautiful video poem I have reviewed so far. Since I am primarily a visual person, the video/graphic aspects usually spark my interest first. That’s not to say that the poem is not equally as important, but sometimes when the two are placed together one overrides the other.

This is not the case in Baltic Seas. It is lengthy and slow, which allows the viewer to take in every aspect of what it has to offer. It tells a story in six parts. Although many images are repeated, each section has its own canvas. We are on a life-long voyage. The first part is about the ship. The poet conveys it as an organism with power and purpose, taking its passengers in the hopes that they will obtain the knowledge this particular journey has to offer.

Section Two opens with images of a graveyard and speaks of an island with trees. Its focus is an old woman’s melancholy, remembering her past. We are led into a combination of life and death, “we walk together.” Then there is talk of war. The visuals are of the Nazi invasion, described as “a gust of wind.” “Terror confined to the moment” — in other words, this too shall pass. We see a memorial stuck into the sand. It’s a mine reminding us of a time when darkness had fallen. This should not be forgotten. Unlike most memorials it is quiet and gentle, thus allowing the theme to continue to unfold in a graceful manner.

In Section Three we are again reminded of the passage of life, through images of a baptismal font. The story carved is biblical, but the poet then speaks of numbers. The filmmakers use the Hex Color/binary code to illustrate this. It’s set into the sky, thereby continuing the passage of life, bringing us from antiquity to the post-modern world. Even the sea and its island cannot escape time.

Baltic Seas is a constant reminder that we continue to come full-circle. The environment changes and yet remains the same. It clarifies the lives that were lived and the ones that were lost, as remembered by the old woman. She, the old woman, through loss of family and her own death has somehow risen above it.

This is one video poem not to rush through — and not to be missed. You need to spend time and enjoy every aspect. It is to be digested rather than guzzled, like a fine wine. My only concern is that we live in a world where most people have the attention span of a gnat. My question is, in our overly caffeinated society, who has the thirty minutes?

Invest the time; you won’t be sorry. It’s a work of art you will remember for a very long time. If you are someone who is involved in making video poetry, it is something to aspire to.

Free Östersjöar (“Baltic Sea”) rentals for Moving Poems readers

You may remember my post from late December about the 31-minute poetry film based on a long poem by the great Tomas Tranströmer that’s now available through Vimeo On Demand. Director James Wine emailed with this offer:

Thanks so much for spreading the word through Moving Poems. We are nudging the audience closer to the first 1000 mark, with viewers in 20 countries on 4 continents — so far! Here in Sweden we are working on a celebration around Tomas’ birthday in April with screenings across the country.

We know the price bites many, but the cost breakdown after the 25% Swedish VAT, the platform charges and plain old taxes, it’s just about 30% left! (At least there is healthcare and free university for all!) No grants or outside funding contributed to the production.

But as thanks to you, we have put a promotion together for your followers, if you like: free rentals starting today through the end of the month. Just hit Rent and enter the code.

The Rental Promotion Code is: movingpoems

Also have put up on Vimeo Part 1 for embedding freely.


(Be sure to click the “CC” icon to get the English subtitling.)

Here’s the link to the full-length film.

Frankly, I’m poor as the proverbial church mouse, but USD $5.00 doesn’t strike me as too much for a 48-hour rental of a high-quality, feature-length film. That said, I’m always happy to save some beer money. Thanks to Mr. Wine for his generosity.

“Östersjöar – A Poem by Tomas Tranströmer” available at Vimeo On Demand


This is the trailer for Östersjöar (The Baltic Sea), a 31-minute film based on a long poem by Tomas Tranströmer (translated as “Baltics” by Robin Fulton). Directed by James Wine with score, performance and sound design by Charlie Wine, it’s a re-make of a 1993 film broadcast on Swedish television in 1994, for which there are a bunch of glowing burbs on the Longwalks Productions website, including one by former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove: “What a marvelous piece! The production is fabulous — it almost manages to bring the smell of the sea into the living room.”

The version in Swedish with English subtitling is now available through Vimeo On Demand at USD $5.00 for 48-hour streaming or $10 for download or streaming any time. The description promises “more languages to follow soon.”

This isn’t the first poetry film to be sold through online streaming or download. James Franco’s Howl, for example, is available through Amazon Instant Video and Hulu, and I’ve heard of publishers experimenting with paid apps for shorter poetry videos. But I’d be willing to bet that this is the first poetry film for sale at Vimeo On Demand. The price strikes me as reasonable, but then I’m a huge Tranströmer fan — I’d probably buy it no matter what they charged. I’ll be interested to see if other poetry-film production companies follow Longwalks’ lead. Vimeo On Demand features include a 90/10 revenue split, availability in HD on all devices including mobile, and the ability to sell work at any price and from any location. It does, however, require the purchase of a Vimeo PRO membership ($200/year). Ordinary Plus members can only collect money through a tip jar, which is only visible on Vimeo, not on embeds.

Martin Earle on Tranströmer and the Making of “A Galaxy Over There”

Juliane Otto interviewed Martin Earle, creator of “A Galaxy Over There” — a filmpoem for Tomas Tranströmer’s “Schubertiana” — for the lyrikline.org blog. A couple of snips:

LB: Do you think poetic images are of another quality than images in film?

ME: There is this very obvious difference that we normally read poems in books and always watch videos or films on some kind of screen. And in our culture the screen has become the all pervasive and restless mediator of information and entertainment – most of which we consume inattentively and forget after a few minutes. I don’t know if we’ve found a way to use the screen or the internet to take things in slowly and chew over them… as we can when we read a poem in a book.

LB: Does Tranströmer know your film? Did he let you know if he likes it?

ME: I was in contact with Monica Tranströmer who was very generous with her time and in arranging contracts and things. They both seemed to like the animation although Tomas Tranströmer wasn’t keen on the translation of the last word ‘djupen’, which we’d translated as ‘abyss’. He thought that ‘the depths’ would have been much more appropriate… and this seems to me very revealing of the attitude to the world that permeates his work. There is very little sense of alienation or existential tragedy that the world ‘abyss’ might suggest and which is not hard to detect in much modern poetry (and in much ancient poetry too). No, for Tranströmer behind and in everything there is a tremendously positive ‘something’, a great ‘yes’ – ‘the depths’. It’s really a shame that it was too late to rerecord the audio track.

Read the complete interview.