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

Jasper Maughan


All Syrian people should stay here,
All African people should stay here,
All Asian people,
All peoples, all should stay.

The howl of the burqa critics gets me worked up, to put it lightly.
Idle gossip about incompatible cultures makes me sick to my stomach,
Gossips know nothing about culture, culture is culture is culture,
It makes me want to bellow into those ears
But they're blocked up with football chants.

The good Germans babble on about white trash.
Hordes of Roma and Sinti in hospital cafés,
They live off child allowance.
And why shouldn't they then? Why shouldn't they?

The busybodies prattle on about identity
Completely caught up in the everyday,
Desperately pursuing a senseless, sensible life.

The grandfathers of this nation fed the ovens,
Everyone was involved, those who looked away, let their thoughts drift away, stayed silent away from it all,
Those who pushed away, struck away, killed away.
The priests prayed it all away and Our Father long ago forgave us.

This nation will always be a killing field
That bears the hints of former souls, now homeless.
The ashes will always crunch beneath our feet,
In that bitter acid wind.

I, the little man, humbly thank you, the peoples of the world
Guests just for now or forever,
Always immigrants,
I thank you for braving the coldness.

You have found your home in Ashland.
Your songs fill the halls,
Your laughter warms,
You are our rock.

Translated from German by Jasper Maughan


Alle syrischen Menschen sollen hierbleiben,
Alle afrikanischen Menschen sollen bleiben,
Alle asiatischen Menschen,
Alle Menschen, alle sollen bleiben.
Das Burka-Geheul bringt mich auf, gemäßigt gesagt.
Das Geschwätz von nichtkompatiblen Kulturen erzeugt Übelkeit,
Schwätzer wissen nichts von Kultur, Kultur ist Kultur ist Kultur:
Möchte ich ihnen in ihre von Fußballgeschrei verstopften Ohren brüllen.
Die guten Deutschen faseln von white trash,
Roma und Sinti, ganze Stämme in Cafés der Hospitäler,
Sie lebten vom Kindergeld.
Und warum denn nicht, warum nicht?
Schnösel und Schnöselinnen quasseln von Identität
Vollkommen verdummt von Trivialmüll,
So jung und so abgestumpft
In ihren Kunststoffleben.
Die Großväter der Nation befeuerten die Öfen,
Alle, alle waren beteiligt, die wegdachten, wegschauten, die wegschwiegen,
Die wegtrieben, wegschlugen, wegmordeten.
Priester beten alles weg, Vater unser hat es längst verziehen.
Diese Nation bleibt immer eine Totenstätte,
Millionen Hauchseelen: heimatlos.
Immer knirscht die Asche unter den Füßen,
Im bitteren Blausäure-Wind.
Ich kleiner Mensch danke Euch demütig, Menschen der Welt,
Gäste für kurz oder lang,
Einwanderer für immer,
Ich danke Euch: Ihr kommt in meine Kälte.
Ihr findet Euren Ort in Ascheland,
Eure Gesänge füllen die Hallen,
Euer Lächeln wärmt.
Ich baue auf Euch.

Rainald Simon

Reproduced with kind permission of the poet.


Translation commentary

I was drawn to this poem for its bold confrontation of two key aspects of modern Germany: the migrant crisis and the remembrance of the Holocaust, known as 'Vergangenheitsbewältigung'. This poem is an emotional plea and I wanted to retain the informality that is evident in the original. For instance, Blausäure is a specific acid, but I found that a technical term seemed out of place in a poem which so overtly appeals to the reader's conscience. Similarly, 'Übelkeit erzeugen' means to induce nausea, but again this seemed overly scientific.

Sound is integral to the poem and really intensifies the imagery. The word 'howl' may seem unusual here, but I opted for a direct translation as it both retains the ambiguity of whether these unnamed people are upset or angry, and adds to this animalistic impression of xenophobia, which the poet so carefully cultivates. It was tempting to translate 'syrischen Menschen' (literally 'Syrian people') as 'Syrians' but I realised that there is a direct equivalent, 'Syrer', which the poet has left out to counter the dehumanising rhetoric against Syrian refugees.

I have translated the verb 'befeuern' as 'feed' to exploit the use of synonyms. We expect that grandfathers are nurturing but here it is referring to feeding a fire, creating a violent twist. Furthermore, the poet creates neologisms based around the prefix 'weg', meaning 'away' and I found I could retain this extremely emphatic repetition thanks to the multiple meanings of 'away' in English – here, either something that is at a distance, or rather something that is persistent and constant – compare 'looking away' and 'struck away'. I admit some of these phrases sound odd, but this is the case in the original; the language mimics our discomfort surrounding the topic.

Jasper Maughan