Sarah Maguire Prize – poetry in translation – Shortlist

The Sarah Maguire Prize is a biennial award for the best book of poetry in English translation by a living poet “beyond Europe”. The winning poet and their translator (or translators) split an award of £3000 between them.

As the Poetry in Translation website states:

The prize has been established in the memory of the poet Sarah Maguire who was the founder of the Poetry Translation Centre and a champion of international poetry. The aim of the prize is to showcase the very best contemporary poetry from around the world and to champion the art of poetry translation.

The judges for the 2022 Prize are Rosalind Harvey (Chair) (translator of Juan Pablo Villalobos’ debut novel, ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’), Kyoo Lee (Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York), and Kit Fan (novelist and poet).

The shortlist for the 2022 Sarah Maguire Award is as follows, blurbs taken from the publisher’s websites:

‘Come, Take a Gentle Stab’ by Salim Barakat (Translated from Arabic by Huda J. Fakhreddine and Jayson Iwen)

Although Salim Barakat is one of the most renowned and respected contemporary writers in Arabic letters, he remains virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. This first collection of his poetry in English, representing every stage of his career, remedies that startling omission. Come, Take a Gentle Stab features selections from his most acclaimed works of poetry, including excerpts from his book-length poems, rendered into an English that captures the exultation of language for which he is famous.

A Kurdish-Syrian man, Barakat chose to write in Arabic, the language of cultural and political hegemony that has marginalized his people. Like Paul Celan, he mastered the language of the oppressor to such an extent that the course of the language itself has been compelled to bend to his will. Barakat pushes Arabic to a point just beyond its linguistic limits, stretching those limits. He resists coherence, but never destroys it, pulling back before the final blow. What results is a figurative abstraction of struggle, as alive as the struggle itself. And always beneath the surface of this roiling water one can glimpse the deep currents of ancient Kurdish culture.

‘Exhausted on the Cross’ by Najwan Darwish (Translated from Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid)

“We drag histories behind us,” the Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish writes in Exhausted on the Cross, “here / where there’s neither land / nor sky.” In pared-down lines, brilliantly translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Darwish records what Raúl Zurita describes as “something immemorial, almost unspeakable”—a poetry driven by a “moral imperative” to be a “colossal record of violence and, at the same time, the no less colossal record of compassion.” Darwish’s poems cross histories, cultures, and geographies, taking us from the grime of modern-day Shatila and the opulence of medieval Baghdad to the gardens of Samarkand and the open-air prison of present-day Gaza. We join the Persian poet Hafez in the conquered city of Shiraz and converse with the Prophet Mohammad in Medina. Poem after poem evokes the humor in the face of despair, the hope in the face of nightmare.

‘Migrations: Poem, 1976–2020’ by Gloria Gervitz (Translated from Spanish by Mark Schafer)

Forty-four years in the making, Migrations is considered by critics to be a masterpiece of modern Mexican literature. Gloria Gervitz’s book, winner of the 2019 Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Prize, is an epic journey in free verse through the individual and collective memories of Jewish women emigrants from Eastern Europe, a conversation that ranges across two thousand years of poetry, a bridge that spans the oracles of ancient Greece and the markets of modern Mexico, a prayer that blends the Jewish and Catholic liturgies, a Mexican woman’s reclamation through poetry of her own voice and erotic power. In its reach, audacity, and astonishing vitality, Gervitz’s extraordinary life’s work bears comparison to the achievements of HD, Lorine Niedecker, Ezra Pound, and Walt Whitman.

‘Unexpected Vanilla’ by Lee Hyemi (Translated from Korean by Soje)

Lee Hyemi’s poetry is characterized by fluidity and wetness, with subjects moving about and soaking in each other through curious means.

Unexpected Vanilla’s exchange of liquids often involves sex, but intercourse can be nonsexual: drinking tea or alcohol, going to the beach, sitting in the same tub, crying, feeling your lover’s sweat on your palm. In this way, Lee explores a wide variety of relationships, attractions, and sensations. Her erotically charged, surrealist sensibility can be traced back to the paintings of Leonor Fini, a bisexual Argentinian artist whom she admires. Lee subverts the titular “vanilla” norm without denying its pleasures.

Detailing various intimacies in her “world of the second person,” which still feels clandestine but safe from the threat of exposure, Lee explores the Korean language’s scope for ambiguous gendering. The task of the queer translator is to feel out the subtleties with respect, as one does in life, and not presume heterosexuality. Just as Lee spoke out during the 2016 hashtag movement that began calling out sexual violence within South Korean literary circles, her poems recreate and hold space for agency and queerness in women’s sexuality.

‘The River in the Belly’ by Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Translated from French by J. Bret Maney)

A moving lyric meditation on the Congo River that explores the identity, chaos, and wonder of the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as race and the detritus of colonialism.

With The River in the Belly, award-winning Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila seeks no less than to reinitiate the Congo River in the imaginary of European languages. Through his invention of the “solitude”—a short poetic form lending itself to searing observation and troubled humor, prone to unexpected tonal shifts and lyrical u-turns—the collection celebrates, caresses, and chastises Central Africa’s great river, the world’s second largest by discharge volume.

Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Soviet history, Congolese popular music, international jazz, and everyday life in European exile, Mwanza Mujila has fashioned a work that can speak to the extraordinary hopes and tragedies of post-independence Democratic Republic of the Congo while also mining the generative yet embattled subject position of the African diasporic writer in Europe longing for home.

‘Cargo Hold of Stars: Coolitude’ by Khal Torabully (Translated from French by Nancy Naomi Carlson)

Cargo Hold of Stars is an ode to the forgotten voyage of a forgotten people. Khal Torabully gives voice to the millions of indentured men and women, mostly from India and China, who were brought to Mauritius between 1849 and 1923. Many were transported overseas to other European colonies. Kept in close quarters in the ship’s cargo hold, many died. Most never returned home.

With Cargo Hold of Stars, Torabully introduces the concept of ‘Coolitude’ in a way that echoes Aime Cesaire’s term ‘Negritude,’ imbuing the term with dignity and pride, as well as a strong and resilient cultural identity and language. Stating that ordinary language was not equipped to bring to life the diverse voices of indenture, Torabully has developed a ‘poetics of Coolitude’: a new French, peppered with Mauritian Creole, wordplay, and neologisms-and always musical. The humor in these linguistic acrobatics serves to underscore the violence in which his poems are steeped.

Deftly translated from the French by Nancy Naomi Carlson, Cargo Hold of Stars is the song of an uprooting, of the destruction and the reconstruction of the indentured laborer’s identity. But it also celebrates setting down roots, as it conjures an ideal homeland of fraternity and reconciliation in which bodies, memories, stories, and languages mingle-a compelling odyssey that ultimately defines the essence of humankind.

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