Sunday, November 16, 2008

Winners of the Stephen Spender Prize 2008

My apologies for not blogging this past week. I have the best excuse in the world; I was writing. Eight poems in the last seven days, to be precise. Which is particularly pleasing, given that poetry had slowed to a trickle for me in recent months (following the somewhat apocryphal deluge of the summer).

The sudden outpouring is due to a new sequence, of course. Sequences always get me writing with more ease and fluidity. More on that later, since though I've rushed in with the first few poems, the overall structure is still in the process of being shaped in my mind.

So, back to the Stephen Spender Prize 2008.

Joint Winners of the 14s-and-under prize:
Paula Alonso-Lalanda - 'Let's go to the Market!' by Gloria Fuertes (Spanish)
Scarlett Koller - 'Roundelay' by Charles d'Orleans (French)

Winners of the 18-and-under category:
Daniel Galbraith (FIRST) - Amores I.V. by Ovid (Latin)
Iwona Luszowicz (SECOND) - 'In Remembrance of Marie A.' by Bertolt Brecht (German)
Rupert Mercer (THIRD) - Catullus VIII (Latin)

Winners of the Open Category:
Imogen Halstead (FIRST) - Amores 1.1. by Ovid (Latin)
Jane Draycott (SECOND) - an extract from Pearl (Middle English)
Emily Jeremiah - 'Theorem' by Eeva-Liisa Manner (Finnish)
Timothy Allen - 'Broken Heart, New Lament' by Nguyen Du (Vietnamese)

The winner of the Open category, Imogen Halstead, is currently in China and couldn't make the award ceremony. So Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate, agreed to read the poem in her place. To make her win even more astounding, Imogen is actually 18, and was the original winner in the 18-and-under category. However, the judges decided that her presence there was so powerful as to be unfair to the other poems entered, so she was 'bumped up', in the words of one judge, to win the adult category instead.

For me though, the most powerful and mesmerising poems of the evening undoubtedly came from Daniel Galbraith and Rupert Mercer, talented young writers in the 18-and-under category with two highly idiosyncratic translations from the Latin, and Jane Draycott, whose extract from 'Pearl' was beautifully and sparingly written.

After the readings, we mingled. The awards were being held at the Venezuelan Embassy in central London, a packed hall with tiered seating and a generous raised platform for the performers. Some extraordinarily tasty red wine was served, and a selection of canapés. Lady Spender was there, along with a smattering of other Spenders, Valerie Eliot (the widow of T.S. Eliot), and other luminaries of the poetry world, including Josephine Balmer, one of the judges and herself a fine poet and classicist.

I spoke at length to Matthew Spender, founder of the new 14-and-under category, whose speech had strongly criticised the government as 'not sympathetic to the idea of studying foreign languages in schools'. He considers these prizes for younger translators a 'reproach' to the government for their apathy, and I have to agree with him.

Heaventree Press founding editor Jon Morley, who published my 'Lament of the Wanderer' translation earlier this year, was also there that night, along with Susan Bassnett, a pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Warwick. Susan was one of the Stephen Spender Prize judges, and is herself an expert in a number of languages, including an old favourite of mine, Anglo-Saxon.

Taking the train back to the Midlands together, the party atmosphere continued for another hour, with an enthusiastic discussion of translations, 'poets we have known', and what each of us is currently working on.

Home just before midnight, I then had to hurriedly dash off a Middle English translation for a class the next morning. It was Chaucer, the wonderfully obscene Miller's Tale. From the sublime to the ridiculous!


Chris Hamilton-Emery said...

Eight poems! Cor blimey. We'll be following up Camper Van Blues with a new book in 3 months.

BarbaraS said...

You know what they say, ask a busy woman... glad to hear that you're feeling rejuvenated in the creativity department. Your sequence sounds very interesting and the night itself sounds like a real treat for the translation senses.

Jane Holland said...

The writing may be quick, Chris, but the stewing takes longer. Some poems are like tough cuts of meat. It doesn't matter how much you thump and tenderize 'em, they still need four or five hours in a slow oven before they're edible.

That's made me hungry now. Off for some dinner!

Jane Holland said...

Erm, that probably should have been months. Or even years.

If all my poems were ready in a few hours, my eventual Collected could be used to breach the walls of medieval castles!