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

Open 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


Christopher MacDonald

Twelve Todays


. . .
. . . . . .

(07:00)
Weightless, from moonrise through sunset.
Father lifted lightly from his sleep, like picking up a cigarette,
Like pulling up a lung-kuei plant. And then laid out.

(09:00)
From where we are the Commune looks far off,
So far that even cockcrow clocks in late.
Houses strung along the bluff, decaying since we traded in our tribal tongue.

(11:00)
On the slippage slope I'll gravely place a hazard sign:
Firstly, about the risk of falling;
Secondly to ground this Commune, which may be moving.

(13:00)
Father faces the summit, where tea grows, his spine propped up by me.
This warm, moist soil in hand – they tell us it may slip.
Fortunately, it's not happened yet.

(17:00)
Mother's made a bowl of lung-kuei broth, the Commune's first of the day.
In late sunlight, cabbages on the hill could tumble loose like unscrewed nuts.
Fortunately, it's not happened yet.

(19:00)
A downpour – we close the doors and windows.
Those who stayed behind in the Commune, their necks drew back,
Turning into pitted slopes where now rain thrums.

(21:00)
Cloudless – the Commune could well become a white dwarf star,
Tracing a sinuous tail though frozen still,
Ready to cleave the mountains next time we start afresh.

(23:00)
I need to lie Father flat again.
Staring pupils, the Commune of old, diluted focus –
Hardly ever able to return.

(01:00)
Not yet a dream, the whole Commune wreathed in spareness.
Shouts not muffled by the dark urge this:
Relocate.

(03:00)
Low-key light from streetlamps probes the mountain mist.
Birdsong penetrates,
And with a rush of weariness the words: "Could it be possible to get away?"

(05:00)
Again, waking before Father – earlier even than his dreams.
Trying to hold it seamlessly together, while losing him.
While protecting him.

(07:00)
Weightless, from sunrise through moonset.
. . . . . .
. . .

Translated from Taiwanese Mandarin by Christopher MacDonald



十二個今天


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

...
......

( 07:00 )
月出至日落是沒有重量的。
父親從睡眠中被抽起,如揀一根菸、
拔一株龍葵。然後被鋪好。

( 09:00 )
部落連在腳下都看起來很遠,
遠的連雞叫都能遲到。
房子們倚壁而伸,在交換族語後開始衰老。

( 11:00 )
我將嚴肅地在順向坡立起一個警示牌:
第一、用於宣導防跌。
第二、用於定位可能移動的部落。

( 13:00 )
父親的脊骨被我撐起,面向有茶樹的山頂。
掌上濕熱的土質被診斷出可能滑動,
幸好還沒有。

( 17:00 )
母親煮了整個部落今天第一碗龍葵湯,
夕陽裡,山腰上的高麗菜像螺帽容易脫落。
幸好還沒有。

( 19:00 )
下起大雨,收好門窗。
那些滯留在部落裡的脖子都縮成凹凸的斜坡,
發出滴滴答答的聲響。

( 21:00 )
無雲,部落很可能還在長成一顆白矮星,
在醞釀一條綿長卻凍止的尾巴,
準備下次翻身時,劃破山際。

( 23:00 )
我又要將父親平躺。
瞪視的瞳孔,老去的部落,散開的焦點,
很少能回得來。

( 01:00 )
還未成夢,整個部落已被稀疏包圍。
用夜色未能掩蓋的叫喊聲,
勸導遷村。

( 03:00 )
街燈一盞一盞,淺淺地剖開山嵐。
鳥鳴透了進來,
『也許能從那裡逃跑吧?』強烈襲來的疲怠感說。

( 05:00 )
又比父親先醒,甚至比他的夢還早。
盡力維持這樣的幀數,失去著他。
保護著他。

( 07:00 )
日出至月落是沒有重量的。
......
...

Temu Suyan

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Translation commentary

I came to this poem as a Westerner who previously lived in Taiwan and often travelled in its indigenous heartlands. Designated indigenous villages called buluo in Mandarin, meaning tribe, or tribal settlement (and translated for this poem as 'Commune'), dot Taiwan's spectacular mountains. They can be welcoming and wonderful places for the visitor, but they also suffer disproportionately from social, economic and environmental ills, in a society where indigenous culture was long negated. 'Twelve Todays' offers a unique and moving insight into the experience of one such community.

Accepting the 2019 Taiwan Literature Awards prize for new poetry in Mandarin by an indigenous writer, for this poem, Temu Suyan, said: 'My community and clanspeople are coexisting and working in concert with these crises every single day…. Whether by design or not, it's as if we were meant to live like this, always teetering on the edge. I've really tried in this poem to describe life in the moment, along with my emotions about the past and fears for the future, so it's a conflicted but truthful expression of how I feel about the commune, where I rarely return, and towards my father, with whom I rarely spoke.'

There is a tension between tautness and ellipsis in written Chinese, particularly in poetry, and carrying that tension across into English can be a (delightful) challenge. Translating this poem required extra effort to limit the length of some lines, which wanted to spill over in English. The resulting language has been pared down in a way which I hope does justice to the unfussy economy of the original, at the same time as retaining its overall structure and appearance.

Christopher MacDonald