This year’s entries were impressive in their diversity and range, from languages new to the Prize such as Wolof and Lëtzebuergesch, to a marked increase in entries from the languages of ‘new’ Europe, such as Romanian and Hungarian (it was also uplifting to see how, despite the recent threat to its place on university and school syllabuses, German proved second only to French in popularity). As ever, entrants’ commentaries, too, illustrated an impressive range of approach and engagement, with those who provided fascinating discussions of technical strategies sitting alongside those who had a more personal story to offer, and almost all revealing how poetry in translation – not to mention the practice of translation itself – strikes deep at the heart of many entrants’ lives (Gordon Wallace’s account of the comfort offered by Henri de Régnier’s poetry during his wife’s decline from Alzheimer’s was particularly moving). Many entries also illustrated the wider, political importance of translated poetry, such as Elizabeth Stanley’s ‘To the Jew who Walked away’, translated from Esperanto and commended in the Open Category, or Karen Margolis’s translations of Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, written shortly before the poet’s death in a Nazi labour camp at the age of eighteen. It was heartening, too, to read of several entrants who were making their first attempts at poetry translation, discovering how it can enrich their experience as both readers and writers.
This was, of course, particularly the case for our entrants in the 14-and-under category where this year the judges’ shortlists were – for once! – in agreement. We were all struck by the deftness of Josie Chubb’s translation of Reverdy’s ‘Sound of the Bell’; although a short piece, she gave us a real sense of a unified poem, not just in her version but in her thoughtful commentary. Other entries which caught my eye in this regard were Jac Rees’s version of Verlaine’s ‘Song of Autumn’ and Alexander Walton’s ‘October’ by Anatole Le Braz, both of which showed promise, although in the end neither made it on to our winners’ list.
In the 18-and-under category, as in previous years, we were impressed by the standard of the classical entries although these were noticeably fewer than in the past, particularly from Greek. However, Jenny Harris’s striking haiku version of the Horace Odes I.IX was an exceptionally worthy winner, a bold and beautifully readable version of a poem which can throw the most experienced of classical translators. Choosing between extracts from longer works and complete, shorter poems is always a difficult task but in Clare Bristow’s versions of Anglo-Saxon, again notoriously difficult to translate, and Daniel Hitchens’s confident translation of Christoph Meckel’s tricky ‘A Discussion of the Poem’, we found two skilled exponents of each task. I was also very impressed with Emily Tesh’s commended extract from Sophocles’ Electra which illustrated an impressive understanding of dramatic dialogue.
Our Open category seemed aptly named this year as, in a field of even but perhaps less immediately striking entries than previously, each of us initially found different candidates for commendation. In the end we were all agreed on the quality of Allen Prowle’s beautifully executed translations of Attilio Bertolucci. We were also impressed by new ways of looking at ancient texts such as Jason Warren’s radical condensing of Ovid’s Tristia or Stephanie Norgate’s relocation of Virgil’s Aeneid II to a modern battlefield, which both received commendations. It was cheering, too, to see poems from different, more oral traditions such as Georgina Collins’s translation of the Senegalese poet Mame Seck Mbacké’s ‘Twilight’, our first entry from Wolof, or Laurence James’s simple translation of the Welsh ‘village poet’ Jack Oliver. This is what translation does: it brings us new traditions and new worlds, while keeping our old ones alive and vital.