There was some excellent work submitted this year in the younger categories and the judges found much to commend. Thankfully, the tendency to use archaisms was not much in evidence, and in contrast, a number of translators opted to give a very contemporary feel to ancient works. We had hip hop and rap Catullus, references to Pete Doherty in ancient Rome and some startlingly contemporary renderings of ancient Greek.
Interestingly, as can be seen from these examples, some of the most exciting translating was of classical poetry, while some of the dullest was of nineteenth and twentieth century French poets. This raises a question: is the teaching of classical literature now geared to discovering contemporary references, and is this beginning to come out in new and vigorous ways? In contrast, is the lack of excitement evident in much of the translation from French a sign of uneasiness with French literature that comes from a very reduced syllabus at GCSE and A level?
What was clear in many of the entries in the 18-and-under and 14-and-under groups, however, was some very good rendering of sonoric patterns and a willingness to experiment with sound and rhythm. This may reflect the involvement of young people with popular music and oral culture, but was both refreshing and very apposite for many of the poems chosen.
In all categories, there were some very good, very thoughtful comments on the processes of translating. Entrants had clearly spent a lot of time thinking about how they had approached their poets, and it was fascinating in some cases to read about the very personal impulses that had led to the selection of one poet over another. Some entrants submitted translations from several languages, some focused on a particular poet. We were delighted to see translations from a broad range of languages, including Sanskrit, Old Manx and Old Norse, also a number of fine translations from Welsh. We hope in future years to see more translations from other minority languages of the British Isles, both ancient and modern.
The issue of how translators select their material is an intriguing one. Some entrants opted for very well-known poems, others for unknown work and a few for poems that had never been translated into English before. We discussed the relative merits of such a selection: is it more challenging to attempt a poem that is well-known and of which there may even be a canonical translation, or is it harder to translate a work for which there are no precedents? In the end, we decided to judge each translation on its own merits.
In determining the final list, we did not find it too arduous to reach a consensus. We have looked for translations that work as poems in English, as a first criterion, and for translations that balance commitment to the original with a flair for writing and a desire to reach out to new readers. Translation is, in one sense, a form of archaeology, in that it recovers works that come into existence somewhere else, at some other time, but it is also a form of writing that is rooted in the here and now, a writing practice that enables us to reach out to other cultures and, by so doing, to understand more about the world in which we live.