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

Open 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


Andrew Fentham

Balaton Accident


1.
Sewage smell on the wind here
as brake oil sticks to the tarmac
under a single mangled car.
A man is lying on the ground
with all thought draining out
from the labyrinth of his head.


2.
Memories vaporise: the body becomes
a pulsing light, a flame to eat the dark
and then itself. The car chassis
is compacted like a trampled bug,
steel bending – an axis mundi.

Only this written-off frame, a shorted
nervous system of sparking wires
and these split, squashed, torn
human entrails. The soul departs
through fog, candescent as the neons
outside the strip clubs. Coolant
pools with blood, and evaporates.

Mosquitos cloud around the flare,
bats zigzag over the wreckage
and foxes lope from the bushes
to test the body and gnaw on it.
Worm eggs buried in the flesh
feel their time arrive and hatch
to chew a maze into the corpse


3.
Lie down here. Press your back
against the clods, stones, rusty screws.
The clubs roar on at the lake,
other cars burr along other
roads, like exhausted strippers.

You ran away from home again
and now you picture each moment
of dying yourself: the car hitting,
the blood taste. You smile
to see the faces in the crowd
rearranged with grief. Lie down
and watch the strobes and vibrations
of the clubs disturb the fireflies,
and the star-labyrinth of sky.

Translated from the Hungarian by Andrew Fentham
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Balatoni baleset


1.
Este iszapszagot hoz a szél,
egy kitekeredett, elfelejtett autó alatt
a fékolajtól ragad a langyos aszfalt.
Egy ember fekszik a földön,
fejében most ürül ki
gondolatainak labirintusa.


2.
Elpárolognak az emlékei: a test fénnyé lesz.
Elnyeli a sötétet a pulzáló láng,
majd felemészti önmagát. Összepréselődik
az alváz, mint az eltaposott bogár,
meggörbül az acél, mint a világ tengelye.

Csak a megtört fémtörzs roncsa marad,
zárlatos vezetékek szikrázó idegrendszere,
és az emberi testben az elroncsolt,
átszakadt, feltépett, szétzúzott szervek.
A távozó lélek megcsillan a ködben,
mint a parti striptízbár neonfénye.
Elpárolog a hűtővíz és a vér.

A csóva körül szúnyograj zümmög,
denevérek cikáznak az autórom felett,
és egy rókacsalád bújik elő a bokorból,
megkóstolják és szétcsócsálják a tetemet.
Megérzik a húsban, a peték belsejében
a férgek, hogy eljött az idejük, kibújnak
zabálni, és labirintust rágnak a testbe.


3.
Lefekszel a földre. Nyomják a hátadat
a kavicsok, göröngyök és rozsdás csavarok.
Hallod a balatoni diszkó messzi dübörgését,
a távoli sztrádán az autók úgy búgnak,
mint munka után a sztriptíztáncosok.

Elcsavarogsz, és elképzeled
a saját halálod minden pillanatát:
átgázol rajtad egy autó, érzed a vér szagát.
Látják, ahogy meghalsz, mosolyogsz,
Ahogy átrajzolja az arcokat a gyász.
Feküdj le és figyeled, ahogy elnyeli
a diszkó stroboszkóp pulzálása
a mezőn a szentjánosbogarak fényét
és a csillagok fénylabirintusát.

András Gerevich
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Translation commentary

Clare Pollard has praised the 'commingling of lucid style and complex emotion, innocence and guilt' in the work of András Gerevich. It was this mix which attracted me to Gerevich's work, and especially to 'Balatoni baleset'. The poet has published four collections in his native Hungarian and collections in translation have appeared across Europe, though not in the UK, despite a collection appearing in English from Corvina in Budapest. These English translations, made by George Szirtes, Christopher Whyte et al, were my introduction to the poet. I contacted him after a short time teaching English as a foreign language in Hungary.

Another reason for choosing this poem was that it had not yet been translated into English (as yet uncollected even in the Hungarian). The poem is recent, and the poet's latest work seems written less by a man who Szirtes once described as having 'perfect balance' than one who tells himself, as does the speaker in this translation, 'Lie down here. Press your back / against the clods, stones, rusty screws.' As a newcomer to the Hungarian language, I cannot yet hope to attain perfect balance in translation. My approach instead has been to communicate the new confusion in the poet's work, whilst striving, where possible, to retain in it that which Szirtes has elsewhere called 'so clear, so pellucid'.

This poem was translated in dialogue with the poet. Gerevich provided a literal translation in English which, with reference to the original, I fashioned into the submitted translation. The poet also altered his original in response to what he found useful or insightful in early draft translations. The work was partly carried out during a residency at the Magyar ForditóHáz (Hungarian Translators' House), Balatonfüred.

Andrew Fentham