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Poetry Translation for All: The Stephen Spender Prize

As borders stay up and international travel remains a distant memory, how do we stay connected to each other and to other cultures? When most human contact happens on screen, if at all, how do we engage our empathy and fire our creativity?

These are questions that the Stephen Spender Trust faced as they launched their prize for poetry translation at the beginning of the first lockdown. As they launch the 2021 prize, they’re reflecting on what they learnt last year: on the power of poetry and translation to forge those connections, to inspire empathy and to beam creative, life-enhancing experiences into people’s homes.

The Stephen Spender Prize is the UK’s biggest prize for poetry translation, and is open to everybody, regardless of linguistic skill or poetic experience. All residents and citizens of the UK and Ireland, of all ages, can enter. With new prizes for first-time entrants and a growing store of virtual resources, the inspiring activity of poetry translation is being brought to as many adults, young people and children as possible.

First-time entrants say time and again how surprised they are to find how accessible, enjoyable and creative the experience is. And those entrants range across the whole spectrum of language skill and experience, from monolingual to multilingual. The virtual resources include masterclasses and mini tutorials from translators, taking you through the creative processes, as well as tips on how to use virtual dictionaries and other reference resources. They also publish virtual booklets of poems in 14 languages for inspiration, although entrants can translate any poem from any language. That freedom results in the most extraordinary variety, with translations from 80 languages in last year’s competition, and over 30 languages amongst the winners and commendees. It might be a language that you learnt at school or since, one spoken in your family or community, or simply a new language whose culture you’ve always wanted to explore.

Translation is about community and collaboration, too. This can take the form of group entries to the prize – an ideal activity for writing groups currently meeting virtually – or families translating together. The ‘Poems from Home’ project shows how parents and grandparents with a language other than English can use poetry translation to bring that linguistic heritage to their children, making it real, living, and shareable.

So you are all invited to try your hand at poetry translation in the coming months. Let this gentle and structured approach to creativity turn you into a translator and a writer this summer.

Find out more about the Prize.

Closing date: 16 July 2021

• Categories: Open (adult), 18-and-under, 16-and-under, 14-and-under
• Top prize of £1,000
• All winning entries published in a booklet
• Judges: Khairani Barokka, Daljit Nagra, Samantha Schnee
• Special ‘Spotlight’ prize for translation from Urdu, judged by Sascha Aurora Akhtar


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