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The Stephen Spender Prize 2017 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

18-and-under category, first prize

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2017 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years


Ambah Brondum-Christensen

Per Diem


Does that Rolls-Royce Phantom elude you and yours?
Sign up for workshops, seminars and conferences
The cycle, vicious, pitiful;
Foodbanks boom
Don't listen, clutch your signature Hindmarch!
Focus on – Per Diem

Are you bursting with conference canapes and champagne?
Nod along to lectures, childhood obesity and healthy eating;
Vegetables, cost more, than doughnuts;
Hungry little mouths
Don't worry about that, fix later; claim expenses!
Pursue your – Per Diem

Retirement planning, endless options: Malta or Portugal?
Your white papers are copious, smeared with the dust of disregard -
Oppose, dare, question.
Sisyphean conference
No comment, classified. Triple Lock decided!
Submit your – Per Diem.

Conference presence, your pretend patriotism; helping your country?
Attend, submit expenses and master those back room deals
DWP, decide, fit to work;
Garrick, Bullingdon; crowd control – the status quo
Reekie, Sanderson, Bottrill are not my problem!
Exist for – Per Diem

Stupid enough to go after corporation tax?
Workshops, your entitlement to elusive peace of mind
Services cut, mental health, decline;
Death clasps unsightly rough sleepers close
I don't worry about them!
Protect your – Per Diem

As long as levels of parliamentary expenses continue to rise
Hard work will see us right!
Icecaps melt, don't listen to them
Don't mind them
Don't worry about them…
I don't pity the scroungers, nor does Osborne!
Enjoy your – Per Diem

Attend seminars, fact find around the globe
Edit the message for the masses chancellor
Just keep conferencing
White wash memoirs
Miracles happen, my knighthood beckons!
Carpe diem;
Expenses – per diem

Translated from the Creole by Ambah Brondum-Christensen
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image of original creole text poem

Daphne Pratt
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Translation commentary

I decided to translate this particular poem because it focuses on corruption and lack of social responsibility. I immediately saw parallels to my assessment of British politics.

The main problem I encountered was that the use of the second person in Krio is more intimate than its use in English. Because of this my translation was sometimes inconsistent. I also found it impossible to directly translate from a language that revels in implied meaning and very short sentence structures. The tone of voice and body language communicates as much as words do, much more than in English. Poetry is traditionally a spoken not literary discipline in Sierra Leone. Poets are primarily performers and celebrated as such.

My approach to the artistic translation was to preserve its key message but make it relevant to the British audience. I did so by referencing topical issues and tragedies like the surnames of three people who took their lives due to benefit cuts, our prime minister's favourite designer handbag, and former chancellor turned editor.

I decided to focus on rhythm rather than rhyme and to maintain a line in most verses in the first person. I thought this would introduce the reasoning of the politician/official as a discordant note throughout.

The use of dramatic verbs and adjectives interspaced with clinically mundane commentary is aimed at mimicking the fickleness of the news cycle and public attention to social injustice.

I also highlight the appearance of action when in reality there isn't any by presenting verbs in a different way. 'Keep conferencing' instead of 'Attend conferencing'. Death is the only thing that actually does something in the whole poem. The aim is to leave the reader feeling dissatisfied, outraged and slightly mesmerised by the repetitive use of 'Per Diem'.

Ambah Brondum-Christensen