STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Two poets, one Swedish and the other Syrian, are leading the betting to win the 2011 Nobel Literature prize, a bookmaker said on Tuesday, though past prizes have often defied the predictions.
British betting firm Ladbrokes have the 81-year-old Syrian poet known as Adonis at odds of 4/1 and Swede Tomas Transtromer, 80, at 7/1 to win the 10 million crown ($1.5 million) prize, to be announced on October6. Japan's Haruki Murakami was third at 8/1.
All three have been on the betting list of candidates before, but an award to Adonis, a champion of democracy and secular thought, would chime well with Arab Spring revolts in several Middle Eastern nations -- though he has not been without his critics who view his support for the uprisings as too muted.
Apart from his political engagement, Khaled Mattawa, who has translated many of Adonis' works into English, said the Syrian -- named Ali Hamid Saeed at birth -- deserved to be recognized for his artistry.
"When I think of Adonis as a poet ... I think of people like Picasso or Matisse, people who opened up a new way of envisioning experience," Mattawa, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, told Reuters.
Adonis was awarded Germany's prestigious Goethe Prize for literature in May.
"I hope with the greater attention being brought to him, people recognize Arab literature is not only compelling for its content or for the way it might help us to understand Arab societies ... but also (that Adonis's work can) give us a sense of the conceptual prowess we find in modern Arab literature," Mattawa said.
The last poet to win the Nobel Literature prize was Poland's Wislawa Szymborska in 1996.
Transtromer, whose subtle, multi-layered work often deals with the relation between man and nature or the conscious and unconscious, is a regular on the list of favorites to win the prize.
"Transtromer is the person who stands head and shoulders above anyone else," said Neil Astley, founding editor at Transtromer's publishers Bloodaxe Books in Britain.
Interest in Swedish writing has increased in recent years, even if that has mainly been in the crime fiction books of dead writer Stieg Larsson and his "Millennium" trilogy.
"It is not just the crime-writer boom. That has been a locomotive for other Swedish literature," said Helen Sigeland at the Swedish Arts Council, where she is responsible for promoting Swedish literature abroad.
The Nobel prize sometimes results in a surprise choice of an artists who is little known outside a small circle of connoisseurs.
This has included Herta Mueller of Germany in 2009 and Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio in 2008, though the 2010 winner, Mario Vargas Llosa, is widely read. Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter and Orhan Pamuk are also laureates.
One figure who would seem to be a very outside bet is Bob Dylan. Even so, his Ladbrokes odds have narrowed to 10/1 from 100/1 last week.
($1 = 6.775 Swedish Crowns)
Reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Matthew Jones