Friday, November 20, 2009

Popescu Prize winner announced

The winner of this year’s Popescu Prize for Poetry Translation is Randall Couch for his translation of Madwomen by Gabriela Mistral, published by University of Chicago Press.

The prize is administered by the UK’s Poetry Society. On their website they call it a “prize for poetry translation” and, further down, a “prize for European poetry translation” featuring “poetry translated from another European language into English”. This is, we are told, “a wonderful opportunity to travel through Europe’s amazing landscapes and cultures”. The longlist invites us to “explore the poetry of Europe” and gives a list of “countries represented”, which is actually a list of languages. Alan Brownjohn, in a history of the prize, describes this as “a European Translation Prize for a book that rendered the work of a European poet into English”.

The Poetry Society seems to be guilty of mixing the concepts of language and statehood. Is English a European language? Is Raymond Carver, because he wrote in English, a European poet? The only American poet we “English” are in the habit of claiming as our own is a certain T. S. Eliot.

Gabriela Mistral also spent time in Europe, and boasted Basque heritage, but to my knowledge this doesn’t make her a European poet. Certainly the Chileans might disagree with such an appellation.

If the Poetry Society is going to call this a prize for European poetry in translation, it needs to tidy up its website and remove the equation language:country. The alternative would be to open the prize up to include all poetry a translator and publisher agree is worth translating.

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