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

18-and-under category, second prize

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

Olivia Flint

The Schoolchildren

Like leaves in a flurry caught on the wind
they break off from the huddle,
one child, two, more and more,
rise up in flight awakening the street,
blown inwards, compelled to come together,
dispersing the group they were in,
seeking it again, settling.
A magnet dispels them and gathers them,
scatters them first across the street,
reunites them. It is strange
this way of melding, of becoming one being.
As if they do not know who they are without following.
They seek each other, reach each other, become entangled.
Nothing occurs abruptly except when a challenge
halts them one by one.
There are two or three that have crossed now,
two or three more who are starting to peel away,
until, as if the plot were revealed,
the chain unravels, takes flight, re-joins,
crosses the street as one. A courage
lingers, a tenderness that sways,
that befriends the stragglers, making them
see that they are not over there, that they are no longer there, that the group
is on the other side. All
with the effortlessness of a gentle breeze,
inevitable, as if in a cycle,
a close band once again,
at last, after motion, calm.

Translated from Mexican Spanish by Olivia Flint


Como hojas de viento sorprendidas en ráfaga
se desprenden del grupo compacto,
un niño, dos, cada vez más,
levantan en vuelo para encrespar la calle,
soplados hacia sí, impelidos a unirse,
deshaciendo el grupo en el que estaban,
buscándolo de nuevo, conformándose.
Un imán los aleja y los reúne,
los dispersa primero hacia la calle,
los vuelve a congregar. Es muy extraña
esa manera de llenarse, hacerse ser.
Como si no supieran quiénes son sin seguimiento.
Se buscan, se tocan, se apelmazan.
Nada se da de golpe sino en un desafío
que los impide de uno en uno.
Hay dos o tres que ya han cruzado,
dos o tres más que empiezan a desprenderse,
hasta que, como si se expandiera el motivo,
el bucle se despega, vuela, se asimila,
cruza la calle en masa. Queda
un aliento, una suavidad que mece,
que acompaña a los rezagados, que los hace
ver que allá no están, que ya no están, que el grupo
está del otro lado. Todo
con una naturalidad de viento amable,
sin violencia, como en ciclo,
masa compacta nuevamente
al fin, tras movimiento, apaciguados.

Pedro Serrano

Reproduced by kind permission of the poet


Translation commentary

Throughout the poem, I struggled to translate the many reflexive verbs into suitable English equivalents whilst still maintaining fluidity. For example, the translations of 'se buscan' and 'se tocan' require the addition of the phrase 'each other' for them to make sense. Consequently, I chose the verbs 'seek' and 'reach' instead of more literal translations. This added assonance, a device not utilised in the original, but which compensated for the loss of rhythm created by 'se buscan, se tocan'. This rhythm is not possible in English due to the absence of verb groups such as 'AR' verbs which share the same endings.

When translating 'para encrespar', I was conflicted as to whether to include an allusion to hair (one of the verb's meanings is 'to make [hair] curly'), since in the original poem it forms part of a subtle extended metaphor comparing the children's movements to hair. I found the other references to hair equally difficult to translate whilst nonetheless preserving the same layered meaning as in Spanish. Eventually, I chose not to carry this metaphor through my translation and instead used 'awakening'. On balance, I felt this was the best option to convey the overall essence and imagery of the line to English readers.

The phrase 'nada se da de golpe' provided many challenges in the translation process. Firstly, the verb 'dar'/'darse' in Spanish has an immense number of meanings dependent on context, thus complicating my search for a logical definition. Having unpicked the general sense of the phrase, I then addressed the issue of maintaining the rhythm created by the succession of short, sharp syllables in the original. I substituted 'occurs abruptly' for 'happens suddenly' because, although the latter seems more natural, the stilted awkwardness of the sounds in my final choice reflect the poet's style.

Olivia Flint