Sir Stephen Spender CBE was an English poet and novelist who champioined the right to free expression of creative artists and writers. He was also a dedicated translator of poetry and The Stephen Spender Trust was founded in his honour. Founding members included Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Valerie Eliot, Czeslaw Milosz and Harold Pinter.
Since its foundation in 1997, the trust has worked to widen appreciation of the literary legacy of Spender and his contemporaries. Its other goal is to promote literary translation. One of the key ways that it achieves this is through the annual Stephen Spender prize.
The Stephen Spender prize is open to anyone who has translated a poem into English from any language. The translated poem can be ancient or modern.
Entrants are divided into three categories: the open prize, the 18-and-under prize and the 14-and-under prize. Including such a young age group is one of the most important aspects of the Stephen Spender prize, as it serves to promote a love of both poetry and translation at an early age. Recognising the importance of language and translation among young people is a key part of building the future of the professional translation industry.
The winners of the 2016 Stephen Spender open prize were:
• First: Lesley Saunders, for her translation of Poem by Maria Teresa Horta from Portuguese to English
• Second: Theophilus Kwek, for his translation of Moving House by Wong Yoon Wah, from the original Chinese
• Third: Mark McGuinness, for his translation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde from Middle English
The 18-and-under prizes were awarded to:
• First: John Tinneny, for his translation of Persephone from the original Irish by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
• Second: George Jones, for his translation of Catullus 13 from Latin
• Third: Alice Mee, for her translation of Ballad of the Moon from the original Spanish by Federico García Lorca
The 14-and-under prize was won by Tomás Sergeant, for his translation of Desire by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.
The Stephen Spender Prize is one of many translation prizes around the world. These prizes help to promote the value of outstanding translation in contributing to a shared understanding of cultures, customs and literary histories. Translation of literary works can help us to see the world from the point of view of others and to appreciate the beauty and complexity of other societies.
Poetry translation is a particularly interesting area of translation and one that the Stephen Spender Prize is doing great things to encourage within the younger generation. Capturing the beauty of a great poem in a new language is a skilled art and certainly not one that every translator would be able to achieve, or indeed would enjoy attempting. Inspiring young people to tackle this is an excellent way of encouraging budding translators to try their hand at literary translation, a skill which is essential in a fast-paced world where understanding of other cultures can sometimes be lacking.
The Stephen Spender Prize serves as a reminder of the beauty of language in translation. Alexia Stone, the 14-and-under category prize winner in 2014, speaks of the “musicality and rhythmic element” of the poem she translated, Jean Dominique’s J'ai Lu que les Poètes, en Chine. Appreciation of language in this way is essential if we are to continue promoting language learning and the craft of translation.
Well done to all the 2016 Stephen Spender Prize winners!
Have you tried your hand at translating poetry? Was the experience one that you enjoyed? Share your thoughts via the comments.