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Translation prizes


Some of the prizes for translated poetry go to the really outstanding translations, but some go to mediocre translations of very good original poets. Why is this? Is it that people don’t know how to read poetry, is it that we read translated poetry not expecting it to really work?


This raises the whole question of why award poetry prizes: to draw attention to a translation that ought to become important in the polysystem, or to reward achievement? I guess it is important to look at what the judges of any particular award have to say, as there is no one criterion that we can just assume will be followed.


I am not sure all contributors to this Forum will know what a polysystem is. It’s just the system of literature in English (in this case), that consists of lots of little sub-systems. I don’t think prizes are just meant to draw attention to the work, are they? I wonder if judges sometimes think something must be good since the original poet was well-known.
We need some judges of translation competitions to answer.


From me, either 1) the translator was going to receive an award with their next translation no matter what, 2) a favourite poet was translated, and/or 3) the award is just a joke.


Well, I’ve submitted to a number of translation competitions but never won anything, though I did get a favourable mention in one of the judges’ reports a couple of years ago. I do find that the winning entries may lack what I consider to be a vital ingredient of poetry: musicality (which may not necessarily be melodiousness and which may not necessarily be embodied in a set poetic form, i.e. metre, rhyme etc). In other words, they are simply dull to read. I could make that complaint about a lot of contemporary poetry in fact. But I do appreciate that it’s all a matter of taste and/or ear! Ranald