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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

Michaela Pschierer-Barnfather

Title Colon Dictation

Will you ever feel that spark
comma beloved question mark
Because I have to admit colon
I have had a crush on you so long
full stop new paragraph new line
Let me hold you comma darling of mine
exclamation mark new phrase
Until I am in your embrace
comma I only dream of you
semi colon write to me please do
full stop My heart dash
it beats and burns comma begins to thrash
hyphen for you alone for sure
exclamation mark new paragraph Your
admirer open bracket then majuscule
Confused comma and restless like a fool
because of you comma my darling my friend
exclamation mark close bracket the end

Translated from the German by Michaela Pschierer-Barnfather

Überschrift Doppelpunkt Diktat

Wie soll ich Dich denn nur erreichen
Komma Geliebte Fragezeichen
Denn ich gestehe Doppelpunkt
Es hat bei mir schon längst gefunkt
Punkt Dann ein Absatz Neuer Satz
Laß dich umarmen Komma Schatz
Ausrufezeichen Neue Zeile
Bis ich in Deine Arme eile
Komma träum ich nur von Dir
Semikolon Schreibe mir
Punkt Mein Herz Gedankenstrich
es rast und brennt und schlägt für Dich
Komma nur für Dich allein
Ausrufezeichen Absatz Dein
Verehrer Klammer auf dann groß
Verwirrt Komma und ruhelos
durch Dich Komma Geliebte Du
Ausrufezeichen Klammer zu

Michael Schönen
Reproduced by permission of the poet

Translation commentary

I have chosen this poem as it is by a contemporary writer, born in the same decade as myself. It is funny and bittersweet, witty and unusual. I like the fact that at first glance there appear to be no punctuation marks, but upon reading you'll notice that the author has actually spelled them all out. A nice touch, I think.

The poem takes the form of a love letter, using slightly whimsical and sugary language, which contrasts nicely with the neutral and official tone of the punctuation terms. Initially, transferring these modern and light-hearted lines from German into English provided me with no problems and came quite easily.

Finalising it, however, was a different story. First, the punctuation terms: as they are fixed and no suitable synonyms exist for them, it made finding a matching rhyme very difficult indeed. In order to keep the rhyme as in the original, I had to change the wording in several places. Finding rhyming words that sounded natural and flowed well in English while retaining the original meaning was not easy. The biggest change comes right in the first line, which a straight translation would render as: 'How shall I ever reach you'; but I needed something to rhyme with 'question mark'. Although my version is quite different, I think it still gets the same sentiment across, and so it is throughout the poem.

Next, I attempted to preserve the metre, but again, it was not easy, as it keeps changing. Furthermore, I had to ensure no punctuation marks (as in I've) crept into the translation. And finally: capitalisation. I had to read and re-read carefully in order to decide which words to capitalise and which not.

I hope you agree with my choice.

Michaela Pschierer-Barnfather