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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

Iain Galbraith

The Motionless Bursting of Apples

Confronting the madness we'd often say: apple. They
confirming their sweetness in summer were bitten with relish. I had
sugar on the mind and the spherical space of the gardens: the light-
lounger, ladder-gazer, god of the barrel, all of them saying
apple. Chewing faces, airborne pollen, the broken branch. Did all
assert: I am summer? Yes. First name: August. May
I mow you? No thanks, at the moment I'm being moled. Certain trees
strike a root in me. This is me being nutted and leafed. I'm sending
postcards the size of the valley. Where do you stick the stamps?
On the post-offices, naturally. For salivatory purposes
the postal clerks stick out their tongues. Thank you. From: This world.
To: Another world. With today's atmospheric date. Being summer
I love water: jumping into ponds, rivers. If need be
into rain barrels. Oops, occupied. The barrel god spills out. But
summer prays, or lays itself down, joined by the meadows
the bushes and so on. Sometimes thinking: wellspring, soon
it will be saying: apple. God was once an apple. He
never wanted to be one. His will was done, making of us
doubters of the meaning of the apple. But the sceptic is
himself almost an apple: verging on the abyss. Should someone
discovering prematurely dry leaves ask you: Are you dying?
Answer: falling apples. The summer meadow
is undoubtedly below: you are falling
into yourself. It's everyone's hope: sweetness
only sinking. Above and below together continue to constitute
summer. A so-called huge sensation of roundness and apple. Never
has the apple's form been of real interest. It is all just: flavour.
Without flavour no apple would differ from us. If
the summer had a tongue, in its anger it would lick
no stamps. We all like the way things are spread: trees
the god-question, falling apples, left letters. We like to say:
apple. Some things
rock and gleam: green and red.

Translated from the German by Iain Galbraith

Das Reglose Bersten der Äpfel

Begrenzend den Wahnsinn sagten wir oft: Apfel. Sie
befestigend die Süße im Sommer wurden gerne gebissen. Hatte Zucker
im Kopf und den sphärischen Raum der Gärten: Der Liegende
im Licht, der Betrachter der Leiter, der Tonnengott: Alle
sagten: Apfel. Kaugrimassen, Pollenflug, Astbruch. Meinte
jeder: Ich bin der Sommer? Ja. Vorname: August. Darf
ich Sie mähen? Nein danke, ich werde gerade durchmaulwurft. Gewisse Bäume
wurzeln in mir. Ich werde ernußt und beblättert. Ich verschicke
Postkarten von der Größe des Tals. Wohin kleben Sie die Briefmarken?
Auf die Postämter natürlich. Die Schalterbeamten strecken zum Zwecke
des Speichelns die Zungen hervor. Danke. Absender: Diese Welt.
Adresse: Andere Welt. Atmosphärisches Datum des heutigen Tages. Als Sommer
lieb ich das Wasser: Springend in Teiche, Flüsse. Notfalls:
In Regentonnen. O, besetzt. Der Tonnengott schwappt heraus. Aber
der Sommer betet. Oder bettet sich: Dazu die Wiesen
die Büsche usw. Manchmal denkend: Ursprung, sagt bald
er: Apfel. Gott war einmal ein Apfel. Er
wollte es nie sein. Sein Wille kam, machend aus uns
Zweifler an der Bedeutung des Apfels. Der Zweifler aber
ist beinahe selbst ein Apfel: In der Nähe des Abgrunds. Wenn
einer, findend früh vertrocknetes Laub, dich fragt: Stirbst du?
Antwort: Das Fallen der Äpfel. Unten ist zweifellos
die Sommerwiese: Du fällst
in dich selbst. Diese Hoffnung hat jeder: Das Süße
sinkt nur. Oben und unten zusammen heißt immer noch:
Sommer. Eine sogenannte große Kreis- und Apfelempfindung. Nie
hat die Form des Apfels wirklich interessiert. Immer nur: Geschmack.
Ohne Geschmack unterscheidet sich kein Apfel von uns. Wenn
der Sommer eine Zunge hätte: Zornig schleckte er
keine Briefmarke. Jeder genießt die Verteilung: Bäume
Gottesfrage, Apfelfall, liegenbleibende Post. Gerne sagen wir:
Apfel. Manches
schaukelt und leuchtet: Grün und rot.

Peter Waterhouse
Reproduced by permission of Peter Waterhouse
From Peter Waterhouse: MENZ, Droschl Verlag, Graz, 1986

Translation commentary

Peter Waterhouse, born in 1956 in Berlin of an Austrian mother and British father, has lived in Vienna since 1975. He is one of Austria's most respected writers and holds the country's highest literary honour, the Austrian State Prize for Literature. It is therefore surprising that so little of his work has been translated into English. Besides novels, plays and essays, he has published half a dozen books of poetry, among them the volumes Menz (1984), Passim (1986), Das Klarfeld Gedicht (1988) and Prosperos Land (2001). Echoes in his poetry come via Hölderlin (the more expansive hymns and elegies), as well as Paul Celan's fragmented syntax and lexis, and he has been described as 'a kind of postmodern Rilke'.

The challenges and joys for any English-language translator lie in his poetry's principal characteristics. Waterhouse is the master of the interrogative form. His poems do not so much question meaning, as release the polymorphous potential of subject-object relations through a ludic subversion of linguistic conventions. The site and prism of the crisis thus enacted is the Romantic self, the user and object of language, albeit the self as a post-structural wild card. With Empedocles (or John Keats), Waterhouse might argue: 'For I have been before now a boy and a girl, a bush and a bird, and a mute fish in the sea.'

In 'The Motionless Bursting of Apples' I have chosen a poem in which Waterhouse's world is brought to word: 'May I mow you?' the poem asks, and mischievously answers: 'No thanks, at the moment I'm being moled.' The medium of Waterhouse's associations is the ear, and translation too must try for a concordance of one soundscape with another.

Iain Galbraith