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The Stephen Spender Prize 2015 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

18-and-under category, joint first prize

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


Anna Leader

Weeds


not to be underestimated: weeds,
their syllable full of greed – this is why
they bloom so hoveringly white, chaste
as a tyrant's dream.

weeds always sneak back like old guilt
to send secret messages
through the dark, under lawns and fields
to someplace where a white resistance –

nest is festering. behind the garage,
by the crunching gravel and under the cherry tree: weed
as choking froth, as foam, that germinates

soundlessly and creeps up the gable, until it grows almost
everywhere, in the whole garden weeds
slice into weeds, twisting with and swallowing nothing but weeds.

Translated from the German by Anna Leader

Translator's note: 'Giersch' is Aegopodium podagraria (ground elder), a highly invasive weed with white flowers.
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Giersch


nicht zu unterschätzen: der giersch
mit dem begehren schon im namen – darum
die blüten, die so schwebend weiß sind, keusch
wie ein tyrannentraum.

kehrt stets zurück wie eine alte schuld,
schickt seine kassiber
durchs dunkel unterm rasen, unterm feld,
bis irgendwo erneut ein weißes wider –

standsnest emporschießt. hinter der garage,
beim knirschenden kies, der kirsche: giersch
als schäumen, als gischt, der ohne ein geräusch

geschieht, bis hoch zum giebel kriecht, bis giersch schier
überall sprießt, im ganzen garten giersch
sich über giersch schiebt, ihn verschlingt mit nichts als giersch.

Jan Wagner
Reproduced by permission of the poet
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Translation commentary


Jan Wagner's work really appeals to me because of the strikingly original and sometimes unsettling images that he includes in his poems: 'Giersch' reads like a nightmare that you can't wake up from. The best thing about this poem, apart from the imagery, is its sounds – the last stanza especially is so full of the 'sch' sound that it becomes suffocating, just like the weed-choked garden that it is describing. Preserving this was the most difficult part of translating this text, and I tried to use 's' and 'ch' sounds to produce the same sonic effect. The whole poem plays off the pun between 'Giersch', an invasive weed, and 'Gier', the word for greed or desire. This wordplay would have rendered the first stanza untranslatable but for the lucky fact that 'greed' and 'weed' rhyme. The original poem invites the reader to return to it over and over again, and to read it out loud – my hope is that the reader of my translation is deeply disturbed, and cannot look at their garden again in the same way.

Anna Leader