Joint runner-up in the 2015 Stanza Poetry Competition, on the theme of Darkness, judged by Jo Bell.

Tess: 'Winter Solstice' was one of those rare, gifted poems. The first line came and after that it felt like it was a case of writing and editing what was already there. I had been reading a book called Late Fragments, everything I want to tell you (about this magnificent life) written by Kate Gross in her final months of enduring cancer. I was struck by the author’s observation of how - since her diagnosis - she felt more fully alive, more aware of the beauty of the world and it is this idea, I think, that guides the poem.

Jo Bell: Denial, refusal and the idea of ‘not’ can refresh a well-worn subject. This poet pursues that stubborn denial – LA LA LA, I am not writing about Christmas – throughout the poem until we realise with a little shock that s/he really isn’t. It’s a technique which gives you license to subvert expectation. Words like ‘indigo’ and ‘garnet’ which normally set off my poet’s Shard Alarm are used knowingly here, and the message of the poem is allowed to burn slowly over two long, elegant stanzas until it quietly detonates in the last line.

Winter Solstice

by Tess Jolly

I will not write about Christmas lights garlanding the tree,
how steadily red blends to sapphire  emerald  gold,
how strong the little bulbs must be to throw their dancing hearts
upon the café wall, how children try to catch them.
I will not say there is tinsel draped about the branches
like seaweed over pebbles, nor paint the cloths swaddling our skins
apricot, indigo, violet, teal. I will not speak of glazed
pastries on the counter, how they shine so much
they could be varnished, there for the hell-of-it, for the sheer
beauty of their glistening berries. I’ll turn away from buses heaving
down the rush-hour road, ignore how in all this rain
the headlamps could be tumbling garnets, polished amber,
as if a picture-book box of pirate treasure had spilt its pearls
and precious stones across a tarmacked page.

I will not describe how the sun becomes the sea, I will not delight
in words to name its colours – cerise, crimson, indigo,
scarlet, madder, rose. I will not try to find a way
to show your smile across the table, how it slips like warm charcoal
into the fabric of my heart. I will not suggest I light a candle
as the year prepares to wane, that you hold a second wick to mine
then another and another, that together we whisper a prayer
for each growing flame. I will not talk about the light
that is everywhere, how far you have to travel for the sky
to be completely black (and even then there are stars, there is the moon’s
borrowed brightness). I will not question why fire burns more fiercely  
before sputtering out, or how – when we know we’re dying –
we can be so fully alive. I will not say these things because this
is a poem about darkness. I am writing about the darkness.

Iain Galbraith
Iain Galbraith. Credit: Kevin Lake for The Poetry Society

Iain Galbraith has won The Poetry Society’s Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize 2015 for his translation of Jan Wagner’s collection Self-Portrait with a Swarm of Bees, published by Arc Publications in 2015. The prize was judged this year by Olivia McCannon and Clare Pollard and supported by the British Council.

Self-Portrait with a Swarm of BeesOf the winning collection, the judges said:

“Galbraith converts every challenge (formal, lexical, metrical) into an opportunity, matching Wagner’s ingenuity and investment at everystep, having  internalized the ‘primal syntax’ so completely that everything he writes hits the mark. The result is a perfect sufficiency: a set of poems in English that somehow inhabit the same skin as the German, with their own autonomous heart and lungs.

They appear in yet another wonderful bilingual edition from Arc’s Visible Poets Series, with an illuminating introduction by Galbraith that reveals the living beauty and efficiency of his translation’s inner workings.”

Writing about the process of translation, Galbraith himself describes how “No word can afford to relax, except as enacted relaxation; each earns its place by association alone, and the whole becomes more than its sum of tiny decisions.”

The winner was chosen from a shortlist of six collections by seven translators. The judges also commended a further five collections, reflecting a strong and fascinating collection of eligible books translated from 19 languages.

Read more about the prize and the shortlist on the Popescu Prize pages of the website, and on our Press Release.

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