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

18-and-under category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2020 booklet
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Read the winning entries from previous years

Cosima Deetman

Cyber Insomnia

Leave the ghost in his shell
He must brood
From a moon of Jupiter
I am livestreaming
My sleeplessness
Because sleep escapes me
I spend my nights in chatrooms
If you want a revolution
Order it on Amazon Prime
With secure shipping to reduce risk
In artificial solitude
I slip on my best pyjamas
Forced awake by darkness
Which I can't stand dreaming in
Share me, share me, share me
With your applephone
And let us randomly exchange
In the name of personhood
Then hop from USB
To USB port
Tossing and turning
Doesn't help
Trigger standby mode
I've lost all contact with sleep
But try to reconnect through old tags
Those who seek boredom
Remain unfound
You just can't change
Your relationship status
Without changing yourself
I've got a book recommendation for you
Write one
Decrypt server data and
Locate my suffering in an infinite loop
The crappy reciprocity of the web
I need a system failure T
o stop ghosting my circadian rhythm
I blow out the WiFi
And make a wish.

Translated from German by Cosima Deetman


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

Lass den Ghost in der Shell
Er muss brüten
Vom Mond im Jupiter im Livestream
Eines Nichtschlafs,
Denn mich flieht der Schlaf
Durch die Nacht
Chat ich mich
Wenn du eine Revolution willst
Bestell sie über Amazon Prime
Gesicherter Versandt verringert Risiken
In gestörter Einsamkeit
Zieh ich meinen besten Schlafanzug an
Dustern gezwungen zu wachen
Ich halte Dunkel nicht träumend aus
Share me, share me, share me with you applephone
Und lass uns Doppelgänger tauschen
Per Zufall sind wie Foetalisten
Und hüpfen von USB
Zu USB-Port zu wälzen hilft
Nicht einer Ruhe beizuwohnen
Ich habe den Anschluss an Schlaf verloren
Und Versuche durch alte Tags
Wer die Langeweile sucht
Bleibt ungefunden
Du kannst nicht einfach
Deinen Beziehungsstatus ändern ohne
Dich zu ändern
Ich hab ne Buchempfehlung für dich
Schreib eins
Trommle ein paar Server ab und
Finde mein Leiden immer wieder
Scheißreziprozität des Netzes
Ich brauche einen Kollaps
Ich ghoste keinen SleepStream
Ich puste die WifiVerbindung aus
Und wünsch mir was

Martin Piekar


Translation commentary

The poem's title suggests that the speaker's sleep has been disrupted or even modified by technology, and the original incorporates lots of tech-related terminology. I wanted to reflect this in my translation and potentially take the concept further. There were various instances in which I opted for a slightly looser translation but one that had connotations of computers. Examples include: 'Kollaps' is translated as 'system failure' rather than 'collapse, meltdown'; 'Ruhe' is translated as 'standby mode' rather than 'rest'; 'immer wieder' is translated as 'in an infinite loop' (a programming term) rather than 'again and again'; 'gestört' is translated as 'artificial' rather than 'disturbed'. Conversely, the poem uses the verb 'chatten', which a German reader would immediately recognise as chatting online. However, in the English translation, I felt I needed to use the word 'chatroom' to make this clear.

German is generally freer with pronouns than English. In this poem there were two sections where the subject of the verbs was ambiguous: 'Vom Mond… Nichtschlafs' and 'trommle… wieder'. However, I felt that this same ambiguity did not translate well to English. In the first instance I used 'I' rather than referring to the ghost, and in the second instance I used imperatives rather than active first-person verbs.

Piekar uses some obscure words and references, which mostly work well in both English and German. However, I found the terms 'foetalist' and 'SleepStream' a little confusing. I thought that the terms, in potentially tripping up the reader, interrupted some of the flow and narrative of the poem. Instead, I used the words 'personhood' and 'circadian rhythm', which still preserve the general meaning but in a slightly more accessible way.

Cosima Deetman