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The Stephen Spender Prize 2014 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

Open category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years


Gillian Harris

Poem with Simultaneous Translation English–English


"For to march towards the future,
For to make, if not a paradise, then
A happy dwelling for our working men,
In the richness of our city, may they
Fuse together in sisterly embrace,
With external force and intimate bonds,
The entire anglo-saxon race,
with that of the Latin Americans"


Rubén Darío. Song for Argentina

Christopher
................... (Christ-bearer)
Humble son of a wool-comber
.................... (son of one who went looking for uncombed wool)
From the port of Palos set sail
.....................(left the port with phallus club and nail)
Not without having persuaded her Majesty the Queen
Isabel of Castille of the goodness of the enterprise
he had conceived.
.....................(not without having persuaded Her Royal Highness
......................die Königen Izzy of Castle of the logistics of pawning
......................her best crown in the Blumenthal greasy-spoon con-vert)
Even if pints and pints of
genuine ancient blood, RH factor negative, would be spilt.
......................(even if blood sweat and tears
.......................from the antipodes would be spent.)
They put on their sails
.......................(they buttoned their military seals)
And after months and months of lonely nuptials
Oxy-moronic in pursuit of the elusive roundness
.......................(and after days and days of chomping Yorkshire puddings
........................and a Penguin for afters on Sundays)
Somebody cried land ahoy
........................(nobody cried Thalassa)
They anchored ship
In 1492 AD
.........................(they stood and took a shit
..........................in 1982 AD)
Chiefs waited
In the nude
Genuflecting
..........................(The bigwigs waited stark-naked
...........................on their knees)
Christopher prepared the missal
..........................(Christopher propelled the missile)
Declared to his fellow-men
..........................(mumbled to his henchmen)
Shit
..........................(fuck)
Behold these new worlds
..........................(behold these lewd worms)
Keep them safe
..........................(Loot the safe)
For God and Our Queen
...........................(For God and Our Queen)
AMEN
...........................(OMEN)

Translated from the Spanish by Gillian Harris
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POEMA CON TRADUCCIÓN SIMULTÁNEA ESPAÑOL–ESPAÑOL


"Para ir hacia lo venidero,
para hacer, si no el paraíso.
la casa feliz del obrero
en la plenitud ciudadana,
vínculo íntimo eslabona
e ímpetu exterior hermana
a la raza anglosajona
con la latinoamericana."


Rubén Darío. Canto a la Argentina

Cristóforo
.........(el Portador de Cristo)
hijo de un humilde cardador de lana
.........(hijo de uno que iba por lana sin cardar)
zarpó del puerto de Palos
.........(palo en zarpa dejó el puerto)
no sin antes persuadir a Su Majestad la Reina
Isabel la Católica de las bondades de la empresa
por él concebida
.........(no sin antes persuadir a Her Royal Highness
.........die Kenigin Chabela la Logística de empeñar
.........la corona en el figón de Blumenthal con-verso)
así se vertiesen litros y litros de
genuina sangre vieja factor RH negativo
.........(así costase sangre sudor y lágrimas
.........antípodas)
se hicieron a la mar
.........(se hicieron alamares)
y tras meses y meses de yantar solo
oxímoron en busca de la esquiva redondez
.........(y tras días y días de mascar Yorkshire pudding
.........y un pingüino de añadidura los domingos)
alguno exclamó tierra
.........(ninguno exclamó thálassa)
desembarcaron
en 1492 a.D.
.........(pisaron en 1982 a.D.)
jefes esperaban en pelota
genuflexos
.........(mandamases aguardaban desnudos
.........de rodillas)
Cristóforo gatilló el misal
.........(Christopher disparó el misil)
dijo a sus pares
.........(murmuró a sus secuaces)
coño
.........(fuck)
ved aquí nuevos mundos
.........(ved aquí estos inmundos)
quedáoslos
.........(saqueadlos)
por Dios y Nuestra Reina
.........(por Dios y Nuestra Reina)
AMÉN
.........(O M E N)

Susana Thénon
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Translation commentary


I chose this poem because of its complex layers of meaning and tongue-in-cheek but acidic political comment, as well as its appropriate subject matter: translation (or mis-translation). There are many poems which retell the myths surrounding the foundation of the new world, but Thénon's is unique for this clever parody of a simultaneous translation, which meta-narratively highlights the fragility and malleability of such legends, how word-of-mouth and oral tradition often create a Chinese-whisper effect. The consequences in her poem are both bathetic and humorous, as well as more politically critical and unsettling. Her use of English, as well as her pointed chronological referencing (1982), indicate to her reader that she is paralleling the conquest of the new world with the conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands. While the specifics might today be out-of-favour, controversial or dated, Thénon's poem can be read more widely as a critique of neo-colonialism and Western influence in Argentina today. The poem starts with a citation of Rubén Darío's patriotic Song to Argentina, which I have also included in my translation.

Technically, the use of English, as well as the variants between Peninsular Spanish and Latin American Spanish (to highlight Christopher Colombus's Spanish roots), proved problematic to translate: indeed, I felt that I had no choice but to omit these nuances. Ironically, Thénon's parodic near-rhymes and near-misses in translation were also difficult to translate – mundos/inmundos, a la mar/alamares – however where possible I tried to replicate this in my version – 'new worlds/lewd worms'. In some cases, I have prioritised the rendering of rhythmic and linguistic effects over the literal translation of the poem, as I feel that Thénon's emphasis is on assonance and musicality, and in fact in this poem meaning itself has become trivialised.

Gillian Harris