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The Stephen Spender Prize 2019 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

18-and-under category, second prize

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2019 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years

Lulu Walsh

The Blue Horse

A horse galloped down
            the mountain, and went mad. Since
then, she eats blue food.

Summer dyes women's
            eyes and sleeves blue and, joyful,
whirls in the town square.

Guests on the terrace
            smoke so many cigarettes
that the tin-like sky

scrawls loops onto the
            ladies' hair. Let's throw away
the sad memories

like a handkerchief.
            If I could only forget
the love and regret

and the patent shoes!
            I got through without jumping
from the second floor.

Sea rises to sky.

Translated from the Japanese by Lulu Walsh


View the original Japanese as an image


Sagawa Chika


Translation commentary

This poem, taken from a collection of poems by Japanese avant-garde poet Sagawa Chika, does not have a clear meaning on a surface level; the striking but bizarre imagery invites the reader into the world of the poet.

We are aware of worries, regrets and her broken heart; however, the ending of the poem is optimistic. There is a suggestion that she has escaped from suicide, and the last line, with the mention of 'rising' to the sky, reflects how she has risen above the worries she has faced.

This poem is in modern Japanese – it was written in the early twentieth century – and having some knowledge of Japanese made translating the poem at a literal level not excessively difficult. I did not take huge liberties; the core content was strange enough.

The structure of the original poem is loose to the point of being nonexistent – it is decidedly and deliberately unstructured, even using enjambment in mid-word, such as '忘|れる', or 'for | get') – but in translation this did not seem sufficiently strange.

Having experimented with various forms I decided to structure the poem into a series of haikus. This was paradoxical. I was seeking a complex, alienating effect to match the strangeness of the poem's impact. Somehow this form framed the strange imagery of the poem better.

Using such a traditional form for such an untraditional poem was dangerous of course, but it had an extra benefit – this traditional lens could playfully reflect the stereotypical way in which the average Western reader perceives Japanese poetry.

Lulu Walsh