MPT Poetry Translation Competition

MPT Poetry Translation Competition 2011 - Winners

Helen Constantine writes:

I suspect that in many poetry competitions the judges have to discard three quarters of the entries on the grounds of quality before they make a shortlist, whereas the remarkable thing about this competition, the first organized by MPT, was the high standard of the poems submitted. This made the choice all the more difficult. We could have found at least twenty of the seventy-one poems on the subject of freedom to be worthy winners of our modest prize money.

One exciting aspect of reading them was that you never knew if the next poem was coming from Burma, Russia or Bolivia, whether it would be a translation of Cavafy, Darwish or Joachim du Bellay. This was a truly international and encompassing project, which reflects the spirit of our Olympic issue; and the subject, freedom, proved a good choice for the translators. The range of countries and languages was vast. We received poems from Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, Estonian, French, Gaelic, German, Indonesian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Welsh, Yiddish… (Please tweet us immediately if I have omitted any!)

As we read, we were reminded of the many injustices and horrors in our history, from the death camps to the oppressions of contemporary regimes. We all know about these things but we constantly need to be reminded of them, and those translations, those poems, are the means of reminding us, as vividly as the television pictures now coming out of Syria. There was a poem written from the ghetto in 1940, for instance, and a poem about Theresienstadt. There was a poem about Aung Sun Suu Kyi as well as poems about being in prison in Russia and in the Middle East. But the subject of freedom gave rise to many different interpretations. There was an impressive translation of Victor Hugo’s poem about Freedom in Education, which nicely contrasted with Prévert’s joyful poem about the dunce, and Brecht’s poem about slavery. But our contributors also found inspiration in poems which were not only cries against oppression, but celebrations of that vital element in any human life, and in any country or culture: individual freedom; so there were beautiful poems by Ehin in Estonia and Machado in Spain, and one from Poland by Agnieszka Wolny-Hamkalo which perfectly caught the freedom and adventure of travelling, and which made it into our list of runners-up.

The seventy-one entries were by a total of fifty-one translators, since some submitted more than one entry. We had fifteen entries from previous contributors to the magazine, and thirty-six who had never before sent us any poems.

The three judges, David Constantine, Sasha Dugdale and myself, narrowed the field to ten poems each, making decisions initially on the quality of the poem, the translation of the ‘spirit’ of the original, the relevance to the subject, and the attention to form. Choices were compared, discussed many times, and the eventual winners’ poems were checked for accuracy in translation by qualified linguists, a necessary step because, needless to say, the judges do not speak all the world’s languages (although, through editing MPT, they know people who can!)

The winning poems, and any notes by the translator, are published here on our website, and will be included in the forthcoming issue of MPT 'Parnassus' due out in April.


First Prize

Ingar Palmlund for her translation of Tomas Tranströmer's 'Allegro' from Swedish

Second Prize

Julia Sanches for her translation of Guto Leite's 'Mercado' (Market) from Portuguese

Equal Runners-up (in alphabetical order)

Brian Holton for his translation with Lee Man-Kay of Jiang Tao's 《古猿部落》(Tribe of Palaeopithecus) from Chinese

Clare Pollard for her translation of Agnieszka Wolny-Hamkało's 'ż' (FM-Biography) from Polish

Allen Prowle for his translation of Antonio Machado's 'Amenecer en Valencia Desde Una Torre' (Dawn in Valencia From a Tower) from Spanish


Marie Naughton for her translation of Zbigniew Herbert's 'Nigdy o tobie' (Never You).

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