“I never was any good at poetry
I never could write it fluently
Waiting for inspiration to hit
whilst eating a banana split
I’m probably better of quitting
Maybe I should take up knitting?”
– A Little Blue Book
Okay, so I think we’ve established that I’m pretty horrific a writing poetry. That’s okay, writing kick-ass urban fantasy is more my thing anyway. Luckily for all of us, the world has seen (way) better poets.
Some of the absolute masters of lyrical language and grab-you-by-the-heart-and-drag-you-through-to-another-world descriptions have received one of literature’s most coveted prizes: The Nobel Prize in Literature. Even though it’s a pretty big deal to get a Nobel prize, it’s important to keep in mind that every poet is different. What speaks to your lyrical heart may not necessarily speak to a jury’s heart. You may, therefore, find that you don’t connect with all (or even any) of the poets mentioned on this list. However, the work of Nobel laureates is usually a pretty good place to start if you want to expand your knowledge of poetry.
All the poets on this list were awarded their Nobel Prize within the last 30 years, so you may already know some of them. I have tried to keep the list “young and fresh” by focusing on recent Nobel laureates, though I might do another list in the future where I focus on some of the earlier prize-winning poets.
But for now, you can lose yourself in the beautiful world of poetry with the help of these five poets:
1. Octavio Paz (1914-1998) – Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1990
Mexican-born Mr Paz was awarded the prize “for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterised by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity” which doesn’t really explain all that much. However, I can tell you that Mr Paz was a very prolific poet, who published a lot of poems during his career. More than 20 poetry collections are available and much of it has been translated into English – Yay!
His works drew inspiration from a wide range of sources (e.g. Marxism, existentialism, surrealism, and Buddhism), and he wrote about topics such as love, modern painting, Buddhism, time – and so much more!
If you’re looking for poetry that “shows an ever-deepening intelligence and complexity as it investigates the intersection of philosophy, religion, art, politics, and the role of the individual” (aka super refined and pretty fancy poetry), then Paz is your guy!
2. Seamus Heaney (1939 -2003) – Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1995
Mr Heaney won his prize “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”.
This guy is a true rock star of poetry. His work is world famous, and the Irish poet has been described as “probably the best-known poet in the world”.
Loved by both critics AND everyday readers, he has been awarded a tonne of prizes for his poetry which continues to be a force within literature.
Mr Heaney’s work draws on his Irish background, so if you’re looking for some great poetry – with a deeper understanding of Ireland – his work would be a very good place to start.
3. Wislawa Szymborska (1923 -2012) – Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1996
And we’ve got our first (and only 🙁 ) woman on the list: Ms Szymborska. She won her prize in 1996 “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”.
From publishing her poems in daily newspapers to winning the Nobel Prize, this Polish lady lived through some interesting times. WWII, especially, had a significant impact on her life and her writing; Ms Szymborska’s first book was rejected in 1949 because it “did not meet socialist requirements” in post-war Poland. In 1952, she had a breakthrough with a poetry collection that reflected a socialist ideology, but later in life, she renounced her earlier political work.
Compared to some of the other poets on this list, Ms Szymborska didn’t write many poems. She was once asked why she had less than 350 published poems, and her simple answer was apparently: “I have a trash can in my home”.
If you’re looking for poetry filled with contradiction, understatements and ironic precision along with some unusual points of view (like cats), Ms Szymborska may just be the woman you’re looking for.
4. Thomas Tranströmer (1931-2015) – Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2011
Last but certainly not least, we have Mr Tranströmer. He won his prize “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”. And who doesn’t want fresh access to reality?
So if you’re looking for that special Scandinavian feeling in your poetry (the one where the winters are dark and everything smells a bit like pine forests and moose), then Swedish Mr Tranströmer could be your new go-to guy!
Nature is a big topic for Mr Tranströmer, and his work is often infused with a sense of mystery and wonder. He is also widely regarded as one of the most important Scandinavian writers since WWII.
And don’t worry; his poetry has been translated into over 60 languages, so you should be able to find something in your favourite language.
I hope you’ve found some new inspiration for your poetry reading! All of the poets on this list have had some of their work translated into English, so there’s no language barrier stopping you here!
Are you crazy about poetry? I would love to know who your favourite poet is (award winning or not) and why!