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

Open category, highly commended

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


Deirdre McMahon

Beneath The World A Storehouse Of Stars


BENEATH THE WORLD A STOREHOUSE OF STARS,
a ship, an echo, a levelled
landing stage, now and then a treeless plain
viewed from every side.
Voices, oh yes,
from memory,
from that land of first decisions,
perhaps also a path
out of my treasury of images:
my life, vulnerable as a ladybird,
my heart, falcon-light.
Ocean currents, more watery waymarks,
more from the dew-water of dreams.
But then, what beauty
a true winter's day on earth
deliverance from the pen
of an old language, heavy with promises.
Untetheredness then,
that soaring above the wind
forgetting one's own oaths,
newly freed and freshly promised,
new-born, gone forth,
the transcendence of a wart.
Liveliness, the striving of the stars
into my cells. My demand for truth
an instant of humming bees. Weaving,
being woven from the whole.
But first, drawing sleep
from the innermost chambers.
Words and passageways,
a crumb of love, An hour
of everland. A week untied
Living.

Translated from the German by Deirdre McMahon
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Unter Der Welt Ein Sternenlager


UNTER DER WELT EIN STERNENLAGER,
ein Schiff, ein Hall, ein gemittelter
Bootsteg – mitunter hintan ein baumloser
Blick in jedwede Ebene. Stimmen, ach ja,
aus der Erinnerung,
aus dem Land erster Beschlüsse,
vielleicht auch ein Pfad
aus dem Vorratslager der Bilder:
Mein Käferleben
Mein falkenleichtes Herz.
Meerströme, mehr Wasserwege,
mehr vom Tauwasser der Träume.
Dann aber, welche Schönheit,
ein richtiger Wintertag auf der Erde
Erlösung aus dem Verschlag
einer alten Sprache. Versprechensschwere.
Losgebundenheit dann doch,
das Über-den-Wind-Stellen,
eigene Schwüre vergessen
und neugelöst sein, neubesprochen,
neu entbunden, hinausgegangen
aus der Verkehrung einer Warze.
Lebendigkeit, das Streben der Sterne
in die Zellen. Mein Wahrheitsanspruch,
eine Sekunde Bienennebel. Weben.
Gewoben sein vom Ganzen.
Jetzt aber vorerst ein Schlaf
aus innersten Kammern.
Wörter und Durchgänge,
Eine Krume Liebe. Eine Stunde
Immerland. Eine bindelose Woche,
Leben.

Marica Bodrožić
(Source text from Ein Kolibri kam unverwandelt, page 84.
Marica Bodrožić. Salzburg-Wien: Otto Müller Verlag)
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Translation commentary

This poem is the final one in Marica Bodrožic's first poetry collection Ein Kolibri kam unverwandelt, published in 2007. It summarises many of the questions and themes posed through the collection, offers direction and confidence to the poet-speaker of the first poem.

This poem embodies and expresses many of Bodrožic's preoccupations – journeys, history and memory, truth and integrity and above all, the nature of language itself. Born in the former Yugoslavia, where she lived with relatives, Bodrožić moved to Germany to live with her parents and siblings at the age of ten. She writes only in German.

Bodrožić has an imaginative and playful relationship with language, frequently inventing new words and compounds and finding new and original links between words which challenge her reader's preconceptions and expectations.

The opening surprises us with the Sternenlager, a neologism meaning stock, depot or storehouse of stars lying beneath rather than above the world, as Bodrožić invites us to consider what lies beneath or within everyday reality. The tone of the poem is transcendent as the poet unites past, present and future into a life that is eine Stunde Immerland – an hour of eternity. The poem brings together many of Bodrožić's 'key' words and concepts such as dew-water, memory, treasury of images, 'personhood', freedom and salvation through the German language. She sees herself as having escaped from the Verschlag (Line 14) [hovel, shed, coop] of an old language. I translated this as 'pen', playing on its meaning as cage and writing implement.

Through the poem Bodrožić plays with ideas of freedom and tethered-ness. She also plays with the senses – the sound of bees humming in the neologism Bienennebel - fog of bees, the sensation of weightlessness, yet being grounded by an essential truth. This poem is an affirmation of life itself.

Deirdre McMahon