Stephen Spender Prize

Our annual prize for poetry in translation is now closed, and we’re processing a record number of entries. Thank you to all who took part!

The Stephen Spender Prize is growing! For the first time, teachers can register to involve their students. All those who register receive regular resources and activities to help them to integrate creative translation into their teaching. Translate into English any poem from any language – ranging from Arabic to Uzbek, from Danish to Somali—and win cash prizes!

This year the prize opened for entries on 6 May and closed on 16 July 2021.

The Prize is an annual competition for poetry in translation, with categories for young people (14-and-under, 16-and-under, and 18-and-under) as well as an open category for adults. All entrants must be UK or Irish citizens or residents, or pupils at a British School overseas.

The Stephen Spender Prize 2021 is generously supported by the Old Possum’s Practical Trust, the Rothschild Foundation, the John S Cohen Foundation, the Polonsky Foundation and Robert and Olivia Temple and The Björnson and Prodan Foundation.

Photograph of SST education workshop

Stephen Spender 2021

Spotlight Prize

Our Spotlight Prize encourages young people to engage with community languages. Our focus for 2021 is Urdu.

Find out more

Open Entry

To welcome newcomers to the open category, this year we will continue to award special commendations for the best first-time entries received.

Find out more

Youth Prize

Our youth prize has categories for 18-and-under, 16-and-under and 14-and-under, and last year saw a record-breaking number of entries!

Find out more

Judges

Photo of SSP Judge Daljit Nagra

Daljit Nagra

Daljit Nagra is an award-winning poet, and a lecturer in Creative Writing at Brunel University, London. He has published four poetry collections with Faber & Faber. He has won the Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem and Best First Collection, the South Bank Show Decibel Award and the Cholmondeley Award. He is the inaugural Poet-in-Residence for Radio 4 & 4 Extra, and presents a weekly programme, Poetry Extra, on Radio 4 Extra. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was elected to its Council, and is a trustee of the Arvon Trust. He has judged many prizes including the Samuel Johnson Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize, the Costa Prize, the David Cohen Prize and the National Poetry Competition.

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Photo of SSP Judge Samantha Schnee

Samantha Schnee

Samantha Schnee is the founding editor of Words Without Borders. Her translation of The Goddesses of Water, a collection by Mexican poet Jeannette Clariond, is forthcoming from Shearsman Books in the UK (August 2021) and World Poetry Books in the US. Her translation of Carmen Boullosa’s penultimate novel, The Book of Anna, was published by Coffee House Press last year and her translation of Boullosa’s Texas: The Great Theft was shortlisted for the PEN America Translation Prize. She is a trustee of English PEN, where she chaired the Writers in Translation committee from 2014-17 and currently serves as secretary of the American Literary Translators Association. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, she now lives in Houston, Texas. 

Photograph of Khairani Barokka

Khairani Barokka

Khairani Barokka is an Indonesian writer, artist, and translator in London, whose work has been presented extensively, in fifteen countries. She was Modern Poetry in Translation’s Inaugural Poet-In-Residence, is on the Board of Shadow Heroes, and is Research Fellow at UAL’s Decolonising Arts Institute, Associate Artist at the National Centre for Writing (UK), and UK Associate Artist at Delfina Foundation. Among Okka’s honours, she was an NYU Tisch Departmental Fellow and is a UNFPA Indonesian Young Leader Driving Social Change. Okka is co-editor of Stairs and whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches), author-illustrator of Indigenous Species (Tilted Axis; Vietnamese translation published by AJAR Press), and author of debut poetry collection Rope (Nine Arches Press).

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Resources and inspiration

Are you an educator interested in using poetry translation in the classroom, or an adult entrant looking for some guidance about translating poetry? Read on for resources, as well as tips and inspiration from previous winners and former judges of the Stephen Spender Prize.

  • Go to our Multilingual Creativity site for a multitude of resources – from worksheets to video tutorials and booklets of international poetry
  • Scroll down to download our PDF resource for adult newcomers to poetry translation, and the booklets of winning poems from previous years
  • More ideas for using translation with children and young people can be found on our Translators in Schools sub-site, and on the Modern Poetry in Translation websites
Photo of a translation workshop

Selecting a Poem and the Ethics of Translation

When you enter the Stephen Spender Prize, we want you to translate poems that speak to your heart; poems that inspire you.

Through the act and process of translation, we want to open people’s eyes and minds to unfamiliar cultures and languages, and for them to engage with the linguistic traditions that form part of their own lives.

Poetry can be moving, funny, sad, intense and exciting. It can also be challenging. Poems from different times and places sometimes embody attitudes that may offend some readers, and some poets are controversial because of things that they did or said off the page.

In some instances, the sharing of a writer’s work is questioned when such controversy arises. We believe that it is important to make such matters part of public debate, rather than removing uncomfortable issues from sight.

The Stephen Spender Prize is a celebration of dialogue between cultures, and good dialogue depends on both freedom and respect.

And so, we ask two things of you when you are selecting a poem for translation.

Firstly, make sure that you are comfortable with the attitude of the poem and the conduct of the poet (if this is known), and think sensitively about how it may be read by others. If you are selecting poems for children to translate, then please take care on their behalf.

Secondly, if you think the poem is challenging for either of the above reasons, but would like to translate it anyway, you may wish to reflect on this in your commentary.

Watch “Entering the Stephen Spender Prize 2021” on YouTube (duration 3 minutes 41):

Previous Winners

Image of 2020 open prizewinner

Stuart Lyons (2020 winner, open category)

Our 2020 winner in the open category was Stuart Lyons, for his translation from Chinese of Xu Zhimo’s ‘Wild West Cambridge at Dusk’. Mary Jean Chan, our 2020 head judge, said: ‘The open category once again proved to be the most varied and challenging for the judges to agree upon. We were enamoured of the playfulness and irreverence of this translation, particularly in terms of the translator’s use of syntax throughout, which allows the English version to take on a life of its own’.

Image of prizewinner

Maryam Zaidi (2020 winner, 18-and-under category)

Maryam Zaidi won the 18-and-under category in 2020 for her translation from Italian of ‘Lemons’ by Eugenio Montale. In the words of 2020 judge Mary Jean Chan, Zaidi’s poem was selected as our unanimous winner ‘for its lyric sensibility and ability to inspire hope through an appreciation of nature’s bounty’.

Image of 16-and-under 2020 prizewinner

Megan Turtle (2020 winner, 16-and-under category)

Megan Turtle won the 16-and-under category in 2020 for her translation from Russian of Joseph Brodsky’s ‘do not leave your room’, which judge Daljit Nagra says ‘shows a translator able to find a poem that is apt for the times; it is written simply, yet with verve, and
conveys the fear of going outside as institutions and ideals collapse’.

Photograph of Hannah Kripa Jordan

Hannah Kripa Jordan (2020 winner, 14-and-under category)

Hannah Kripa Jordan won the 2020 14-and-under category for her translation from Tamil of ‘And Yet – Our Tamil Life’ by Manushya Puthiran. In the words of Daljit Nagra: ‘I was delighted that a poem translated from Tamil became our winner, especially as this indicates the wide range of languages our winning entries came from.
‘And Yet – Our Tamil Life’ is both funny and moving, and the translator’s commentary was also an enjoyable read’.

Meet the Stephen Spender Prize 2020 open category winner, Stuart Lyons (YouTube, duration 4 minutes 48):

Download prize booklets

Booklets featuring all the prizewinning poems from 2020 to 2004 can be downloaded below.  Booklets are in PDF format.