Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Blog | No Comments
Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry Translation

The Times Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry Translation is  an annual poetry translation prize established in 2004.

Bookworm Translations has expert knowledge of the poetry translation field, and a number of our clients and key industry contacts specialize in this area. As the closing date for this competition is close (24th May) we thought it would be particularly topical to discuss this prize, and poetry translation in general. If any of our talented pool of translators are entering this year we would love it if you let us know!

Poetry Translation is a unique and specialized form of literary translation, and it is important not only to convey the meaning of the source text, but to also accurately portray the poet’s original intentions as far as rhyme scheme and form goes. Our Poetry Translators here at Bookworm Translations are at the top of their field and we work closely with our clients to ensure their requirements are clear from the outset and the finished translation successfully communicates the original poem.

There are no entry requirements in terms of qualifications for the Stephen Spender Prize. All translators must provide a 300 word commentary with their entry to explain decisions taken when translating and how the finished translation coveys the original source language author’s style and voice. There are three categories of entry: aged under 14, aged 14-18 and adult.

The adult, or ‘open’ category winning translations in 2012 are below:

First: Kaarina Hollo, Stillborn 1943: Calling Limbo by Derry O’Sullivan (Irish)

Second: Patricia Hann, The Sunflower by Eugenio Montale (Italian)

Third: Jane Tozer, The Gibbet by François Villon (French)

The full source and target language texts of the winning and shortlisted poems from previous years, along with the translator’s commentaries and judges notes, are available to read by clicking on the above link.

The winning poems have been of a variety of different lengths, from varying periods and a vast range of source languages, so we at Bookworm Translations we always find this competition extremely interesting. The poem below won Second Prize in 2012. This is Patricia Hann’s beautiful translation of an Italian Poem by Eugenio Montale.


The Sunflower

Bring me the sunflower here and let me set it

in the parched briny soil of my own place

to turn all day to the heavens that reflect it

the broad gaze of its yellow yearning face.

Things of the dark aspire to all that’s bright,

their forms dissolving into a cascade

of tints merging in music. Simply to fade

from view is the great adventure, lost in light.

Bring me the plant that points us to the height

where there’s a clearness tinged with the sun’s rays

and life itself is thinning to a haze.

Bring me that flower delirious with light.

Translated from the Italian by Patricia Hann

Il girasole

Portami il girasole ch’io lo’trapianti

nel mio terreno bruciato dal salino,

e mostri tutto il giorno agli azzurri specchianti

del cielo l’ansietà del suo volto giallino.

Tendono alla chiarità le cose oscure,

si esauriscono i corpi in un fluire

di tinte: queste in musiche. Svanire

é dunque la ventura delle venture.

Portami tu la pianta che conduce

dove sorgono bionde trasparenze

e vapora la vita quale essenza;

portami il girasole impazzito di luce.

Eugenio Montale



With such a wide variety of poems, styles and languages, the question is often asked as to how the winners are chosen. Susan Bassnett, one of the judges on the 2012 panel, gave this interesting insight into how the panel judges the poetry translations.

“How does a panel reach its conclusions is a question often asked. There is no simple answer, for all sorts of criteria come into play: crucial of course is the effectiveness of the poem in English, along with evidence of the strategies employed by the translator in creating that poem. We also consider the difficulties facing a translator, which is not to suggest that the more problems posed by a poem, the more likely it is to win, but rather that it is clear that in some cases the translator has had to work very hard indeed to find creative solutions. It was interesting to see how many extremely difficult poems were attempted this year in all categories, and it was also notable that many commentaries referred to personal encounters with poems and poets, often through hearing a poet read at a literary festival or through a return to a piece that held special memories. ”


What do you think of Susan’s comments? For those of you involved in poetry translation, have you ever been inspired to translate poetry you have heard at a literary festival? We would be very interested to hear your stories so please comment below or on our social network pages using the buttons at the top of the page.

We hope these insights will be interesting for any of you who have an interest in the Stephen Spender Prize or in Poetry Translation. We look forward to reading the 2013 winning poems, and wish any of our translators who are entering the best of luck!

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