Page 1

Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize 2015

Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize Anthology 2015 The Poetry Society 22 Betterton Street London WC2H 9BX ISBN: 978-1-900771-92-4 Cover artwork & illustrations: Iro Tsavala.

Introduction and other prose ŠThe Poetry Society & authors 2015 Copyright of the poems rests with authors and other rights holders as cited in the acknowledgements on page 32, which constitutes an extension of this copyright page

Contents Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize 2015 Judges Olivia McCannon & Clare Pollard

The Poetry Society & the British Council About the Popescu Prize Judges’ introduction Winner Iain Galbraith Jan Wagner an essay on midges australia Shortlisted Anne Stokes Sarah Kirsch Cat lives Elz·bieta Wójcik-Leese Krystyna Miłobędzka “in his laughter your face...” Ellen Doré Watson Adélia Prado Neighbourhood Susan Wicks Valérie Rouzeau “The boy gives back the mango..” David Constantine & Tom Kuhn Bertolt Brecht He was easy to get... Tercets on love – The lovers


12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 23

Winners’ biographies Commendations Publishers Acknowledgements

25 28 30 31

6 8 9 10

The Poetry Society The Poetry Society is the UK’s leading organisation for poetry. We work with poets from all over the world, and promote British poets nationally and internationally. We publish exciting new work quarterly in our magazine The Poetry Review, and seek out new talent through international competitions such as the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award and the National Poetry Competition. With innovative education and commissioning programmes, and a packed calendar of performances and readings, The Poetry Society champions poetry for all ages. To become part of our poetry community, visit

The British Council The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations. We work in more than a hundred countries to create international opportunities for the people of the United Kingdom and other countries, and build trust between them worldwide, connecting millions of people with the UK through programmes and services in English language, the Arts, Education and Society. In our arts work we engage with writers, publishers, producers, translators and other sector professionals across literature, publishing and education. We collaborate with our offices overseas to broker relationships with international writers and literature organisations. Our partners and platforms include literature houses and festivals, book fairs, conferences, literature development agencies, schools and universities. Together we develop innovative, high quality, long-term programmes and collaborations that provide opportunities for cultural exchange with the UK and offer creative artists, participants and audiences around the world life-changing and life-enhancing experiences.


The Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize The Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize is run by The Poetry Society. It was originally named the European Poetry Translation Prize, and the first winner was Tony Harrison for The Oresteia in 1983. The prize was relaunched in 2003, and renamed in honour of the Romanian translator Corneliu M. Popescu, who died in an earthquake in 1977, at the age of 19. The prize was supported from 2003 to 2011 by The Ratiu Foundation, and is supported in 2015 by the British Council. Past winners of the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize have been David Constantine for his translation of Lighter than Air by Hans Magnus Enzensberger in 2003; Adam Sorkin and Lidia Vianu for their translation of The Bridge by Marin Sorescu in 2005; Ilmar Lehtpere for his translation of The Drums of Silence by Kristiina Ehin in 2007; Randall Couch for his translation of Madwomen by Gabriela Mistral in 2009; Judith Wilkinson for her translation of Raptors by Toon Tellegen in 2011, and Alice Oswald for Memorial in 2013. This pamphlet contains a selection of poems from the winning and shortlisted collections 2015. We hope you will enjoy them.


Judges’ introduction The Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize Translation is always a form of conversation. Poetry in translation, at its most vital, overcomes what was thought impossible and finds what was unimaginable. Judging this year's Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize has been a privilege and an education. How wonderful that a prize exists to recognize what translators of poetry can and do achieve, individually, and as a community: the innovative spaces they open up in their writing, the oxygenating effect of their conversations and questions, the alternative map of human warmth, wit, resilience and ingenuity we may, thanks to their efforts, lay over the cold lines of official borders. One of the many advantages of reading translated poetry, is how highly filtered it is: so little appears in translation from a single language, a survival of the fittest is likely. The Prize received fifty-five accomplished entries, translated from nineteen languages. However, those on the shortlist, the crème de la crème de la crème, are there because we felt that both the original work and the translations were not only outstanding, but essential reading; these are books that make, and leave, their mark. We hope the shortlisted and commended books we have chosen honour what is special about this prize by celebrating both radically diverse poetic voices and the translators whose generosity and talent allow us to hear them in English. The books on the shortlist are of the kind that turn you into


a crazed enthusiast – you’ll be pressing them into people’s hands and jabbering about how they’ve transformed your sense of what can be done. Enjoy the extracts you will read in the following pages and, if you feel moved to do so, please go out and buy the collections, too. Towards the back of this pamphlet you will also find a list of publishers who submitted to the prize; all of them are working to make a wide range of translated poetry available in the English language, and we would do well to support their endeavours. Olivia McCannon & Clare Pollard



Iain Galbraith for Self-Portrait with a Swarm of Bees by Jan Wagner, published by Arc Publications What the judges say Jan Wagner’s poems are “not only elaborate, cunning, and worldly, but genuinely entertaining” (Iain Galbraith). Wagner’s playful adventures in form surprise into view the hidden structures of life and language, while celebrating poetry’s “bond with our steaming, glowing, odorous, noisy world” (JW/IG). Galbraith converts every challenge (formal, lexical, metrical) into an opportunity, matching Wagner’s ingenuity and investment at every step, having internalized the ‘primal syntax’ so completely that everything he writes hits the mark. The result is a perfect sufficiency: a set of poems in English that somehow inhabit the same skin as the German, with their own autonomous heart and lungs.


Jan Wagner an essay on midges as if all the letters had suddenly floated free of a paper and formed a swarm in the air; they form a swarm in the air, of all that bad news telling us nothing, those skimpy muses, wispy pegasuses, only abuzz with the hum of themselves, made from the last twist of smoke as the candle is snuffed, so light you can hardly say: they are – looking more like shadows, umbrae jettisoned by another world to enter our own, they dance, their legs, finer than anything pencil can draw, with their miniscule sphinx-like bodies; the rosetta stone, without the stone.

Translated by Iain Galbraith


Jan Wagner australia we started at midday where the bridge petered into wasteland and the distant motorway. through a kaleidoscope of shattered glass, old carpets, a tangled root-mass of couch grass, hidden behind a runnel, the sewage pipe with its biblical murk and the modest trickle of its sermon: we dug. behind hawthorn, a reed-colony, the paleontological wreck of an automobile, swallowed by loam like a fossil. a tethered balloon with its beer or jelly advert brashly swung beyond the housing estate and all around us were the shiny black leeches of jettisoned tyres, bloated with mud and rainwater, the paint cans, battered and left for litter.


we dug. a cricket fell silent while a pair of blackbirds, panicked, hopped nervously round a rusty rake, a larger talon. how long before we came up against rock, coal seams and ore? how long before a koala felt the earth shaking and witnessed something odd? – a hole in the ground and two mudspattered german boys struggling to count to ten, then vanishing into the mythical mustard-yellow twilight, the horizon sporting their spade like a flagpole.

Translated by Iain Galbraith



Anne Stokes for Ice Roses: Selected Poems by Sarah Kirsch Published by Carcanet Press What the judges say Ice Roses is the first selection of Kirsch’s work to cover her entire lifetime (1935-2013), ranging from the early work shaped by the ideological confines of her life in East Germany, to the strange beauty of the late poems, inhabited by the stark, sodden landscapes of Schleswig-Holstein. Kirsch is a poet (and watercolour artist) who looks to feel, who uses syntax as a painter does colour, producing a poetry of immediacy and ambiguity. Stokes’s lucid translation reveals Kirsch’s clear, curious voice, non-conformist in both politics and poetry, that makes the heart jump like “an egg in boiling water”.


Sarah Kirsch Cat lives Poets love cats of course The gentle free who cannot be controlled Who sleep and dream November rain away On silk chairs or in rags speak back Without saying a word shake themselves And get on with their lives Behind the hunter’s fence While his possessed neighbours Are still noting down licence plates The one being observed in his four walls Has long left the borders behind

Translated by Anne Stokes



Elz· bieta Wójcik-Leese for Nothing More by Krystyna Milobe¸dzka Published by Arc Publications

What the judges say “Words are always late.” Miłobędzka’s devastatingly honest poetry occupies a space of transparency and dismantling, “the see-through within the see-through”. This is poetry that equips language to hold onto the things that slip through the mind’s net, to honour what might be invisible or seem insignificant, where the smallest domestic detail becomes astonishing. Wójcik-Leese’s “looking and hearing” translations keep pace admirably with Milobe¸ dzka’s ruthless refusal of the fixed solutions present in language, her crossings-out, and disappearances.


Krystyna Milobe¸dzka “in his laughter your face...” in his laughter your face, precise and near, echoes and returns smaller: your grandson laughed, father I cannot lose sight of you I lose it I want to speak of you I hear myself not the track not the path narrower higher through something right behind you that rises re turns to this minute the twig knocked by the shoe only for a fraction for a few round gilded letters up there our path down there our path we walk together through the great chain of mountains farther down chipped stones farthest down plants gentian the invincible sapphire of this word we run: a quick drop down the dark leaf

Translated by Elz·bieta Wójcik-Leese



Ellen Doré Watson for The Mystical Rose: Selected Poems by Adélia Prado Published by Bloodaxe Books What the judges say What a feast awaits the reader of Adélia Prado. This is a rich, sensual book, full to bursting with desire, honey, ovums, perfume, prostitutes, fish, butterflies, breasts, pomegranate liqueur and “needy, needy god”. Doré Watson’s warm translation, the fruit of a thirty-year conversation with the poet, captures the surprising shifts of Prado’s voice, its unique mixture of earthy humour and mysticism. “My soul wants to copulate!” Prado declares. Here is poetry that believes in itself, in its power to send the barriers crashing down, by letting life in, everywhere.


Adélia Prado Neighbourhood The young man has finished his lunch and is picking his teeth behind his hand. The bird scratches in the cage, showering him with canary seed and bird droppings. I consider picking one’s teeth unsightly; he only went to primary school and his bad grammer grates on me. But he’s got a man’s rump so seductive I fall desperately in love with him. Young men like him like to wolf their food: beef and rice, a slice of tomato and off to the movies with that face of invincible weakness for capital sins. I feel so intimate, simple, so touchable – because of love, a slow samba, because of the fact that we’re going to die and a refrigerator is a wonderful thing, and the crucifix his mother gave him, its gold chain against that frail chest – that ... He scrapes at his teeth with the toothpick, he scrapes at my strumpet heart.

Translated by Ellen Doré Watson



Susan Wicks for Talking Vrouz by Valérie Rouzeau Published by Arc Publications What the judges say How often do we read with this much delight? What’s immediately clear is how much fun both Valérie Rouzeau and her translator, Susan Wicks, are having. This book brims with puns and playfulness, as Rouzeau seems to set dares for Wicks, who gamely, skilfully, steps up to every challenge. “I stood up tall tall tall as a candle flame,” she declares, “And everything lit up even the pissing toad / Trapped deep inside my heart.” We are lucky these two fine writers have found each other – each bright, generous poem is a testament to their friendship and their talent.


Valérie Rouzeau “The boy gives back the mango...” The boy gives back the mango at the till too dear He hasn’t got enough to pay for it no way He didn’t sweat enough his cash-flow has run dry His euros hours of work are not enough he hasn’t won The jackpot yet his eyes are black his eyebrows frown With worry skin like bronze from relishing the sun The mango’s suddenly the weight of all his pains On the little scales for fruit and vegetables And it still smells of mango from Peru Brazil That oily yellow resin and brown turpentine The best ones come from Mali which you never find In France where this boy works and now Nothing he leaves that’s it the way he came No wherewithal you’re welcome insufficient coin.

Translated by Susan Wicks



David Constantine and Tom Kuhn for Love Poems by Bertolt Brecht published by Liveright What the judges say Arguably the greatest poet-playwright since Shakespeare, Brecht wrote more than two thousand poems in his lifetime, and yet is still mainly known in English for his plays. These seventy-eight love poems, in pitch-perfect translations that capture all the virtuosity, rigour, humour, heart and urgency of the German, begin the work of righting that wrong. As Tom Kuhn and David Constantine write: “Brecht was always more or less in love, and in his total oeuvre, love, or let us say Eros, is expressed, discussed, enacted in an astonishing variety of modes, forms, tones and circumstances.� These are powerful, purposeful poems that show how love survives and resists dark times.


Bertolt Brecht He was easy to get... He was easy to get. It was possible on the second evening. I waited till the third (and knew I was taking a risk). Then he said, laughing: it’s the bath salts Not your hair. But he was easy to get. For a month I left him straight after making love. Every third day I stayed away. I never wrote. But store up snow in a pot It gets dirty all the same. I did more than I could When it was already over. I threw out the bitches who were sleeping with him As though I didn’t mind I did it laughing and crying. I turned on the gas Five minutes before he arrived, I Borrowed money in his name: It did no good.


But one night I slept And one morning I got up I washed myself from head to toe Ate and said to myself: That’s it now. Truth is: I slept with him twice more But by God and my mother It was nothing. Like everything else It passed.

Translated by David Constantine


Bertolt Brecht Tercets on love – The lovers See how those cranes fly arcing through the sky! The clouds they have for company on their way Were there already when they had to fly From one life to another far away. Together at the selfsame height and pace It seems an almost casual display. That crane and cloud just chance to share the space Of the wide skies through which they pass so briefly So neither one may linger in this place And all they see is one another slightly Rocking on the wind in loose accord Who now in flight lie side by side so lightly The wind may carry them off into the void. If they remain themselves, and hold on tight They can be touched by nothing untoward It doesn’t matter if they’re driven out Threatened by gunshots or by stormy weather. Indifferent to the sun and moon’s pale light


They journey on, besotted with each other. What are you fleeing from? – The world. – Where to? – Wherever. You ask how long now have they been together? Not long. – And when they’ll part? – Oh, soon enough. So love appears secure to those who love.

Translated by Tom Kuhn



The translators and poets Iain Galbraith Iain Galbraith’s poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, PN Review, Edinburgh Review, Times Literary Supplement, Irish Pages, New Writing and many other journals and books. He is the editor of five poetry anthologies and translates poetry, fiction and drama. A winner of the John Dryden Translation Prize and the Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry Translation, his recent translated books include W.G. Sebald’s poetry and John Burnside’s selected poems in German. He is an occasional lecturer, and in 2014-15 taught Poetics of Translation at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. He was born and grew up in the west of Scotland and now lives in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Jan Wagner Jan Wagner was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1971. A poet and essayist, he has published six volumes of poetry, including Guerickes Sperling (2004), Achtzehn Pasteten (2007), Australien (2010) and his most recent collection Regentonnenvariationen (2014), for which he was awarded the Prize of the Leipzig Bookfair (2015). He is the co-editor of two influential anthologies of German language poetry, and has also translated the work of several British and American poets. He has received many awards for his poetry, including the Ernst Meister Prize (2005), the Wilhelm Lehmann Prize (2009), the Friedrich Hölderlin Prize (2011) and the Mörike Preis (2015).



David Constantine David Constantine is a freelance writer and translator. His most recent volume of poetry is Elder; his fourth collection of short stories, Tea at the Midland, won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2013.

Tom Kuhn Tom Kuhn teaches at the University of Oxford, where he is a Fellow of St Hugh’s College. He works on twentieth-century drama and German exile literature and since 1996 has been editor of the main English-language Brecht edition.

Bertolt Brecht Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) was a German playwright, poet and theatre director.

Anne Stokes Anne Stokes is a translator of literary and academic texts, and she writes about German literature. She teaches translation at the University of Stirling. Ice Roses: Selected Poems was also shortlisted for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize in 2015.

Sarah Kirsch Sarah Kirsch (1935-2013) was a German poet who lived and worked in East Germany, and then, after political persecution, the West. She published ten collections of poetry.

Ellen Doré Watson Ellen Doré Watson directs the Poetry Center at Smith College, USA, and has translated over a dozen books from Brazilian Portuguese, as well as from Arabic with co-translator Saadi



Simawi. She is a poet and Poetry & Translation editor of The Massachusetts Review.

Adélia Prado Adélia Prado (b. 1935) is a Brazilian writer, author of eight volumes of poetry and eight of prose. Last year she received the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust.

Susan Wicks Susan Wicks, poet and novelist, was born in Kent, and has lived and worked in France, Ireland and America. She is the author of six collections of poetry, and has been shortlisted for and won numerous prizes for her own poetry and for her translation.

Valérie Rouzeau Valérie Rouzeau was born in 1967 in Burgundy, France. She has published a dozen collections of poems, and received the Prix Guillaume Apollinaire in 2012 and the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize in 2014 for her collection Vrouz.

Elz· bieta Wójcik-Leese Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese writes between English, Polish and Danish. She has published translations in magazines, anthologies, books and on the London Underground. She works at the University of Copenhagen. –

Krystyna Milobe¸dzka Krystyna Miłobędzka (b. 1932) is an acclaimed Polish poet, children’s theatre scholar and author of children’s plays. She has published twelve collections of poetry.



The Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize Commendations David Constantine and Karen Leeder for Rubble Flora by Volker Braun (Seagull Books) The poetic flora in this edition spring from ruins: the rubble of post-war Dresden, the terminal decline of the 1970s GDR and, in recent times, the fall-out from the financial crisis and the Iraq War. Over half a century of poetry-that-gives-a-damn flourishes here: raging, provocative, peppered with debunking irony and biting wit. Karen Leeder and David Constantine each bring forth a fearless, persuasive voice in English for a poet whose literary principle is the “explosion of grammatical and semantic coherence”, as he searches for human dignity in the “flowering of [...] frail possibility against the odds”. Peter Daniels for Selected Poems by Vladislav Khodasevich (Angel Classics) The Russian poet Vladislav Khodasevich (1886-1939), a contemporary of Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva and Mandelstam, has been given his first substantial Selected in English. These are moving poems full of humanity, beauty and surprising detail. Peter Daniels’s translation is remarkable for its subtle handling of metre, or “time”, and its sensitive understanding of “the Russian love of rhyme”, as he weaves “verse music to echo the original”, in English.



David McDuff for One Evening in October I Rowed Out on the Lake by Tua Forsström (Bloodaxe Books) This delicate, slow-burn sequence takes a few simple images – a woman rowing out onto a lake, roses, children, snow, glitter and darkness – and lets them build into something deeply moving, a poem that seems to contain a whole life, and meditate on love and time: “You are old now little child / don’t be afraid little hare.” David McDuff captures this poetry “made of water, longing / and the dust particles in the wind”, in his luminous rendering of Finland’s most celebrated contemporary poet. David Paisey for Selected Poems and Prose by Gottfried Benn (Carcanet Fyfield Books) Michael Hofmann for Impromptus: Selected Poems by Gottfried Benn (Faber & Faber) In a remarkably strong year for German poetry in translation, we are blessed with two brilliant editions of an important, neglected poet, his work characterized by “powerful aesthetic collisions” and “the isolation and fragmentation of the human being adrift in a nihilistic world”. Read Paisey for the clear-sighted balance he brings to Benn’s biography and the sure-footed vigour he offers his poetry, in a lovingly compiled edition that covers the full range of Benn’s writings. Read Hofmann for his persuasive championing of early and late Benn, and the personal poetic affinities that give us these charismatic, warm-blooded translations.



About the shortlisted publishers Arc Publications is an independent UK publisher of contemporary poetry by new and established writers from the UK and abroad. It specialises in the work of international poets writing in English and the work of overseas poets in translation. Bloodaxe Books is internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, and its authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry, from the T.S. Eliot Prize and Pulitzer to the Nobel Prize. Carcanet Press is in its fifth decade, and continues to publish a comprehensive and diverse list of modern and classic poetry in English and in translation, as well as a range of inventive fiction, Lives and Letters and literary criticism. Liveright Publishing Corporation is an imprint of W.W. Norton that is a home for outstanding works that define and redefine our culture, and that continue to provoke interest and inspire readers around the world.



Thanks to all the other publishers who champion poetry in translation and submitted books to the prize: Agenda Editions • Angel Classics • Coiscéim • Eyewear Publishing • Faber & Faber • Fyfield Books • Guernica Editions • New Directions • Old Stile Press • Parthian Books • Salt Publishing • Scotus Press • Seagull Books • Seren Books • Shearsman Books • Shoestring Press • Small Stations Press • Smokestack Books • Spuyten Duyvil Publishing • The Gallery Press • The University of Chicago Press Acknowledgements ‘midges’ and ‘australia’ from Self-portrait With a Swarm of Bees by Jan Wagner, translated by Iain Galbraith • ‘the boy gives back the mango’, originally published in Talking Vrouz by Valerie Rouzeau, translated by Susan Wicks • ‘in his laughter your face, precise and near’, originally published in Nothing More by Krystyna Miłobędzka, translated by Elz·bieta Wójcik-Leese. All used by permission of Arc Publications • ‘He was easy to get...’, originally published in German in 1960 as ‘Es war leicht ihn zu bekommen...’, translated by David Constantine. ©1960 by Bertolt-Brecht-Erben / Suhrkamp Verlag. ‘Tercets on love – The lovers’, originally published in German in 1930 as ‘Terzinen über die Liebe – Die Liebenden’, translated by Tom Kuhn. ©1930 by BertoltBrecht-Erben / Suhrkamp Verlag. Both are from Love Poems by Bertolt Brecht, translated by David Constantine and Tom Kuhn. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation • ‘Cat lives’, originally published in Ice Roses: Selected Poems by Sarah Kirsch and translated by Anne Stokes, used by permission of Carcanet • ‘Neighbourhood’ by Adélia Prado, translated by Ellen Doré Watson, originally published in The Headlong Heart (Wesleyan University Press) and reprinted in The Mystical Rose (Bloodaxe), used by permission of Wesleyan University Press and Bloodaxe Books.


Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize 2015 Anthology  
Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize 2015 Anthology  

This anthology presents the winners of The Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize 2015, and includes stunning translations by both the w...