• Subscribe to our e-letters

  • Facebook_icon

The Stephen Spender Prize 2020 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

16-and-under category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2020 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years

Gabriela O'Keeffe

Tears for America (extract)

A tear for Uncle Sam

Who escaped from rehab

And got drunk on Jack Daniels

in 'Mr Bojangles'.

Nuke Japan

Destroy Pyong Yang

And shower Vietnam









A tear for Coca-Cola

putting his greasy hand

in the back pocket

of our Levi's, saying

"Diet Coke, Sireee!!"

nothing, but

water and aspartame

A tear for Heinz, and for Nike

International traders

crying,"FREEDOM!!" out loud

but their whispers cry,"greed..."

And for a stranger,

the tears

of his brother,



the worst of two choices




from floor 22


An eagle, without wings









             z e r o.

Translated from Irish by Gabriela O'Keeffe

Deora do Mhericeá (extract)

Attempts have been made to contact the rights holder of this poem.
For more information please

deoir do UNCLE SAM

d'éalaigh as Rehab

d'ól a raibh de Jack Daniels

i Mr Bojangles

núiceáil an tSeapáin

dhein dúirling de Pyong Yang



        ar Vít Neam




an Iaráic



deoir do Coca Cola

' cuir a lámh ghréiseach

i bpóca tóna

ár Levi's á rá


gan ann ach uisce &


deoir do Heinz & do Nike

trádálaithe trasdomhanda

' bhéic freedom os ard

i gcogar bhéic SAINT

& a dheoraí na ndeor

a dheartháir

ag a fágadh

rogha an dá dhíogha


nó léimt

as urlár 22












go talamh   .z e r o

Michael Davitt


Translation commentary

These are the final verses of Michael Davitt's poem, 'Tears for America'. This poem is written as a mourning piece, with the poet despairing how America is falling into capitalism and war. I chose this poem because I loved the stark, bleak imagery it invoked and I enjoyed the fragmented nature in which the poem was written, as if the poem itself was crumbling alongside America.

Irish is quite a compact language, which presented a challenge when translating this poem into English. The poet shortens his sentences even more, omitting pronouns and verb conjugations in places. I tried to stay as true as possible to the poet's intentions in my translation, deliberately clipping my sentences to blunt statements (Nuke Japan. Destroy Pyong Yang.) I felt that these shortened sentences were essential to the tone of this poem. The poet does not use flowery language to try and soothe what he is saying, rather he states it quite bluntly.

One phrase that I found quite interesting to translate was, 'dhéin dúirling de'. Translated literally into English this means, 'make a whirlwind of'. I felt that this phrase was too wordy and eloquent among the other blunt sentences the poet had written. I instead translated it to 'destroy', which I felt conveyed the same message in a more upfront and stark manner.

The poet wrote this poem in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and the last stanza of this poem describes the plight of someone trapped inside the Twin Towers. The first sentence of this stanza was quite difficult to translate, as the word, 'deoraí' can mean multiple things in English. I felt that 'stranger' was an apt translation, conveying the unknown and left-behind nature of many of those who have lost someone they loved in a terrorist attack.

Gabriela O'Keeffe