The Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry – in conversation with Leo Boix


Can you tell me something about the Sarah Maguire Prize and what makes it unique?

The Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation has been established in the memory of Sarah Maguire (1957-2017), the founder of the Poetry Translation Centre and champion of international poetry. This prize is unique in that it’s awarded every two years to the best book of poetry from a living poet from Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Middle East in English translation, published anywhere in the world.

What makes this prize really exciting is that it showcases the very best contemporary poetry from around the world, as well as championing the art of poetry translation. It raises the profile of contemporary poetry in English translation. The prize consists of a cash prize of £3,000 divided between winning poets and translators. 

The Poetry Translation Centre will publish a selection of chosen poems in an anthology which will be distributed to English readers and audiences in order to promote the selected poets, translators and their books. Additionally, shortlisted poets, translators and publishers are all invited to a UK award ceremony.

Books are submitted from all over the world – what countries dominated this years entries?

The three judges, Alireza Abiz, Ida Hadjivayanis and myself  read poetry collections from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, with most entries coming from Asia and the Middle East. I was particularly excited to read some fantastic collections from Latin America.

 Robert Frost said, Poetry is what gets lost in translation. How do you translate poetry and how do you judge the best?

For me translation is a complex and intricate art that requires a great amount of care and attention. I read and re-read the poet I am going to translate to better understand the context in which they work, write and live, ie: cultural, historical, social, geographic, and linguistic. I always try to keep the music and rhythm in my translations, for the end result to be as close as possible to the original, to choose and select words that also work well in the English language. I am fascinated by this inspiring process, a process that is a labour of love, by how much is gained and lost in translation, by the possibilities of cultural translations, and by the way the poet’s voice comes across anew in another language.

Judging this poetry competition involved lengthy discussions, debates and conversations among us the three judges. It was never a unilateral decision, we discussed each of the shortlisted book in great detail, analysing not only the quality and standard of the translation, but also how it read in English, the main themes and variations of each book, and the collection as a whole. It was a fascinating process in which we also took into account the individual voice of the poet and how balanced the book was overall. We all had our favourites but at the end the decision was unanimous.

How did you and your fellow judges approach the entries?

We read all the entries after a first sift made by the Poetry Translation Centre and then we had to rate each book individually. The second stage involved a lengthy meeting to discuss and compare our markings, when we decided on a longlist of books that we subsequently reduced to the final shortlist of six books: Nouri Al-Jarrah (Syria), Takako Arai (Japan), Fawzi Karim (Afghanistan), Kim Yideum (South Korea), Judith Santopietro (Mexico), and Yang Lian (China).  The shortlist features books translated from Japanese, Arabic, Korean, Spanish and Chinese. The selection celebrates both the best of modern poetry from across the globe and showcases a range of different translation methodologies highlighting excellence in literary translation. In choosing the shortlist, we looked for books which speak to UK audiences, but which maintained the unique spark of their original texts.

We’ve included poets from different geographical and linguistic regions, with a wide variety of voices, themes, and styles. I am very proud of this incredible list and we’re all very much looking forward to announcing the winner on the free online prize giving ceremony on the 25th March at 6:00PM (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-sarah-maguire-prize-for-poetry-in-translation-prizegiving-tickets-138473537077)


Leo Boix

Leo Boix is a Latino British poet, translator and journalist based in the UK. He has published two collections in Spanish, Un lugarpropio and Mar de noche, and has been included in many anthologies, such as Ten: Poets of the New Generation and Why Poetry?. His English poems have appeared in PoetryThe Poetry ReviewModern Poetry in TranslationPN Review and elsewhere. Boix is a fellow of The Complete Works program and co-director of ‘Invisible Presence’, a scheme to nurture Latino poets in the UK.

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