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The Stephen Spender Prize 2015 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

Ken Cockburn


Bowls of milk in the rain. A rabbit's wet head.
Here's someone walking through meadows with rolled-up
trousers. Owl pellets. Banks of fog. Hillsides.
Crows in flattened grass. Dripping cloths.
A look. Here's my mouth in the reeds. And there.
My breath on the lake. One breaking wave and I'm
no longer I. The place. The roof-tiles. The day,
forgotten. There at the edge. Where the darkness
lives. There in the valley. The gate at the end.
Wooden boots, a mirror of water between lips. Silent.
Come the flood, the stones sink. A handful of forest.
And a blow. The impact of a word. White bird,
white feather. You. Quivering fish. Scurrying fox.

Translated from the German by Ken Cockburn


Milchschalen im Regen. Nasser Kaninchenkopf.
Da geht einer durch Wiesen, mit hochgekrempelten
Hosen. Eulenwerg. Nebelbänke. Alles auf Hügeln.
Krähen in niedergedrücktem Gras. Tropfende Tücher.
Ein Blick. Da liegt mein Mund im Schilf. Und dort.
Mein Atem auf dem See. Ein Wellenschlag und bin
nicht ich. Der Ort. Die Dachschindeln. War ein
vergessener Tag. Dort am Rand. Wo die Schwärze
wohnt. Dort im Tal. Am Ende steht das Tor. Hölzerne
Stiefel. Spiegel des Wassers zwischen den Lippen. Still.
Kommt die Flut. Sinken die Steine. Wald in der Hand.
Und ein Schlag. Schlägt das Wort. Weiß der Vogel.
Weiß die Feder. Du. Zitternder Fisch. Schnürender Fuchs.

Christine Marendon
Reproduced by permission of the poet

Translation commentary

I discovered the poems of Christine Marendon (b. 1964) via a mutual friend. Christine had been invited to a festival in Slovenia, and needed English versions of six poems – could I make the translations? I enjoyed their enigmatic imagery and shifts in tone, and did so, helped by a correspondence with her. That was ten years ago, since when I've translated her work slowly but steadily; we met, and read together, for the first time in 2014, when it was a pleasure to hear her measured reading voice. From Bavaria, she grew up speaking both German and Italian, and only began writing in her thirties, after attending a reading by the poet Hilde Domin (1909–2006). She is also influenced by Paul Celan, and her work can be seen within a tradition of hermetic or mystical poetry more central to German-language than to English-language literature.

'Search' is a narrative presented like a film montage, with the reader invited to connect the various images. Hunting is implied, in the title, the creatures, and the 'blow'.

The German words 'da' and 'dort' feature; both usually mean 'there', but I have translated the former as 'here' to differentiate them in English. The phrase in l.2, 'da geht einer' implies an observer, and 'here' makes their presence more immediate, and implicates the reader in the unfolding scene.

Where verbs feature (ll.12–13) they precede their subject in an inversion of the usual word order; to my mind this implies a missing 'es', which again would normally be translated 'there' (eg 'there comes a flood') which I have avoided, to save repetition and awkwardness of expression. Instead I have retained the inversion of the first phrase, creating a conditional which slightly shifts the meaning of the German, but retains the image sequence and the tone.

Ken Cockburn