Self-Portrait with a Swarm of BeesSelf-Portrait with a Swarm of Bees, Iain Galbraith‘s translation of Jan Wagner from German (Arc Publications), has won The Poetry Society’s Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize 2015.

This year’s winner was chosen by judges Olivia McCannon and Clare Pollard, who said of the winning collection:

“Jan Wagner’s poems are ‘not only elaborate, cunning, and worldly, but genuinely entertaining’ (Iain Galbraith). His playful adventures in form surprise into view the hidden structures of life and language, while celebrating poetry’s ‘bond with our steaming, glowing, odorous, noisy world’ (JW/IG). Galbraith converts every challenge (formal, lexical, metrical….) into an opportunity, matching Wagner’s ingenuity and investment at every step, 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.”

You can read a poem from the collection on our website, and find out more from the Press Release.

Essays on translation

Read essays from the shortlisted translators about the act of translation in a piece extended from the Poetry News version, published in Winter 2015.

Photographs from the awards reception on 23 November 2015 at Europe House

All photos credit: Kevin Lake for The Poetry Society

Winners’ Anthology

The Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize Anthology 2015, with translated poems by both the winning and shortlisted translators, profiles of the translators, poets and publishers, and a commentary by the judges Clare Pollard and Olivia McCannon, is available for free from The Poetry Society (email [email protected] for more information) and available to view online.


David Constantine and Tom Kuhn for Love Poems by Bertolt Brecht, pub. by Liveright | German

From the judges: Arguably the greatest poet-playwright since Shakespeare, Brecht wrote more than 2000 poems in his lifetime, and yet is still mainly known in English for his plays. These 78 love poems, in pitch-perfect translations that capture all the virtuosity, rigour, humour, heart and urgency of the German, begin the work of righting that wrong. Tom Kuhn and David Constantine: ‘Brecht was always more or less in love, and in his total oeuvre, love, or let us say Eros, is expressed, discussed, enacted in an astonishing variety of modes, forms, tones and circumstances’. These are powerful, purposeful poems that show how love survives and resists dark times. 

Iain Galbraith for Self-Portrait With A Swarm Of Bees by Jan Wagner, pub. by Arc Publications | German

Anne Stokes for Ice Roses – Selected Poems by Sarah Kirsch, pub. by Carcanet | German

From the judges: Ice Roses is the first Selected of Kirsch’s work to cover her entire lifetime (1935– 2013), ranging from the early work shaped by the ‘ideological confines’ of her life in East Germany, to the ‘strange beauty’ of the late poems, inhabited by the stark, sodden landscapes of Schleswig-Holstein. Kirsch is a poet (and watercolorist) who looks to feel,who uses syntax as a painter does colour, producing a poetry of immediacy and ambiguity. Stokes’ lucid translation reveals Kirsch’s clear, curious voice, non-conformist in both politics and poetry, that makes the heart jump like ‘an egg in boiling water’.

Ellen Doré Watson for The Mystical Rose by Adélia Prado, pub. by Bloodaxe | Portuguese

From the judges: What a feast awaits the reader of Adélia Prado. This is a rich, sensual book, full to bursting with desire, honey, ovums, perfume, prostitutes, fish, butterflies, breasts, pomegranate liqueur and ‘needy, needy god’. Doré Watson’s warm translation, the fruit of a thirty-year conversation with the poet, captures the surprising shifts of Prado’s voice, its unique mixture of earthy humour and mysticism. ‘My soul wants to copulate!’ Prado declares. Here is poetry that believes in itself, in its power to send the barriers crashing down, by letting life in, everywhere.

Susan Wicks for Talking Vrouz by Valérie Rouzeau, pub. by Arc Publications | French

From the judges: How often do we read with this much delight? What’s immediately clear is how much fun both Valérie Rouzeau and her translator, Susan Wicks, are having. This books brims with puns and playfulness,as Rouzeau seems to set dares for Wicks, who gamely, skilfully, steps up to every challenge. ‘I stood up tall tall tall as a candle flame’ she declares ‘And everything lit up even the pissing toad / Trrapped deep inside my heart’. We are lucky these two fine writers have found each other – each bright, generous poem is a testament to their friendship, and their talent.

Elzbieta Wójcik-Leese for Nothing More by Krystyna Milobedzka pub. by Arc Publications | Polish

From the judges: ‘Words are always late’. Milobedzka’s devastatingly honest poetry occupies a space of transparency and dismantling,‘the see-through within the see-through’. This is poetry that equips language to hold onto the things that slip through the mind’s net, to honour what might be invisible or seem insignificant, where the smallest domestic detail becomes astonishing. Elzbieta Wojcik-Leese’s ‘looking and hearing’ translations keep pace admirably with Milobedzka’s ruthless refusal of the fixed solutions present in language, her crossings-out, and disappearances.


Peter Daniels for Selected Poems of Vladislav Khodasevich by Vladislav Khodasevich, pub. by Angel Classics [from Russian]
Michael Hofmann for Impromptus by Gottfried Benn, pub. by Faber & Faber [from German]
Karen Leeder and David Constantine for Rubble Flora: Selected Poems by Volker Braun, pub. by Seagull Books [from German]
David McDuff for One Evening in October I Rowed Out on the Lake by Tua Forsström, pub. by Bloodaxe Books [from Swedish]
David Paisey for Selected Poems and Prose by Gottfried Benn, pub. by Carcanet Press [from German]

The prize is generously supported in 2015 by the British Council.

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