The Corneliu M Popescu Prize for Poetry in Translation
Virtual Book Club 2011

Members of the Poetry Society were invited to join our Virtual Book Club, which saw readers from across the country reading poetry from all over Europe. Book Club members were asked to read and review one title from the shortlist, and selected comments were posted below in advance of the winner being announced. 

Read the full, unedited reviews here.





Heavenly Life
, Ramsey Nasr (Banipal Books)
Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer

"I laughed at "nothing finer than the company of professors/ try it sometime" in the earlier lyrics. However some of the language seemed odd- neither lyric nor common usage and I spent some time trying to work out if the "silly chappie" in "the true lover" was literal or inferred translation; I wondered if the archaism was in the original." Poetry Society member Christy Ralph

"A Poet Laureate elected by the people, from an ethnic minority  and who is not scared to take on the nation's sacred cows. What's not to like? I love poems that tell stories and there are many of these, from the relationship between Mahler and the Dutch collaborationist conductor, Mengelberg, in 'The Heavenly Life' to the sonnets about the founding of New York." Poetry Society member Tracey Martin

"I was captivated by Nasr’s striking and versatile voice from the opening poem. Throughout, metaphors are precise and startling, yet the translation also retains a sense of urgency and spontaneity. On the page, in translation, Nasr’s poems ring effortlessly true." Poetry Society member Emma Danes

"Nasr’s fearlessness is something I love about this collection. He writes uncompromisingly, for instance with his deeply physical observations of love and sex, using words which some poets would avoid on principle (‘pearly teardrops’, ‘carmine’). " Poetry Society member Phoebe Power

"In many of the poems if one tries to make sense of the words, to compensate for lack of punctuation and be even the faintest bit pedantic about the words and their meaning, the magic is lost. One has to read the poems without quibbling." Poetry Society member Daffni Percival

Chickweed Wintergreen, Harry Martinson (Bloodaxe)
Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton

“I had never heard of Harry Martinson ... This is more an aggregation than a collection, as there are no clear common themes binding different poems together. However, there are some insightful, sometimes wonderful universals." Poetry Society member Michael Stone

"His early work especially is populated by creatures and events of extreme climates from his years as a seaman: storm petrels, albatrosses, hurricanes, driftwood. In later poems close observation is infused with an exquisite near mystical quality as he celebrates ‘nature’s very tiniest work’, the elusive language of ‘hurrying water’ in Millwheels, of whispers in forest or grass, of ‘snow-thoughts’." Poetry Society member Maria Jastrzebska

"Martinson’s observant tenderness brings out the best in Robin Fulton’s translations and best of all perhaps in the evocations of childhood absorption which are this poet’s spiritual core:
'Towards the cowberry distance there / in summer’s own parish / my dream migrates / like a crane in spring.'" Poetry Society member Adam Elgar

"There is a sense of longing in the descriptions of the humming primeval stillness of the forest, where the bats swoop for midges, the snail goes about its business and the juniper tree  ‘clamped between grey stones’ waits for winter." Poetry Society member Nick Rogers

"I found Martinson's work a breath of fresh air: nothing obscure, nothing rarified, just great wafts of measured contemplation, of political and social comment bound into exact imagery of his homeland which has made me see my own world differently." Poetry Society member Helen Wood

Ikinci Yeni, The Turkish Avant-Garde (Shearsman Books)
Translated from the Turkish by George Messo 

"The clear intention, what gives the poems their sombre, brooding power, is to make the reader work for understanding, share the poet’s own struggle with thought, feeling, the problem of giving voice, as Edip Cansever says in Triplets, to 'the words and songs / Never sung in any tongue / Never written in any language.'" Poetry Society member Ken Head

"I was greatly surprised and delighted by this collection. The poems, not previously translated, range from dark, sinister, disturbing imagery to the light, sometimes mildly humorous. This was an adventure, an introduction to a culture and ... a group of poets whose work I would like to learn more about. " Poetry Society member Stewart Hildred

"This was not an easy collection to read and, perhaps with the exception of Süreya’s delightful ‘Striptease’, demands that the reader works hard at gaining access to each poem. Nonetheless, there is a power within this work which equally provokes the reader to read, puzzle, return and read once more with an almost masochistic inquisitiveness." Poetry Society member Dr Robert M Jaggs-Fowler

"Ece Ayhan was frustrating. Edip Cansaver's "Oh Yeah Now That's A Table" is a brilliant metaphor for poesis; elsewhere there is urbanity, romance and arresting imagery. Cemal Sureya's musical, erotic, nostalgic poems were a delight." Poetry Society member Joan Hewitt

"Ikinci Yeni provides a fascinating variety of styles with no sense of forced commonality in the selection. On the contrary, there is a beautiful synchronicity in the work of these five poets that is given room to flourish." Poetry Society member Jocelyn Page

Into the Deep Street: Seven Modern French Poets (Anvil)
Translated from the French by Jennie Feldman and Stephen Romer

"One of my favourite poems in the collection was by Guy Goffette, his poems felt raw and striking. To end the collection with Gilles Ortlieb’s dainty and humane poetry was a treat, as was this whole book." Poetry Society member Katie Beviss

"Testament to the volume’s worth is the fact that a reading of the poems from start to finish makes one feel and understand the meaning of ‘l’étranger ’ or ‘otherness’. My only occasional issue is with the translation. ... it is a strength of this title that the French faces its translation to allow for ‘mutual interrogation’." Poetry Society member Jacqueline Tobin

"This collection opened a door for me onto modern French poetry, easing the poems across the linguistic cultural divide. With a breath of fresh air I thoroughly enjoyed the way their vignettes pursue universal truths through the domestic, the everyday, the familiar. " Poetry Society member Sue Whitmore

"The translations capture the original poems well. Because the poems are not rhymed, are without regular metre and not in stanzas or patterned, the lyrical and imagistic quality of the poems is maintained." Poetry Society member Sarah Windebank

"A big, meaty book with an exemplary, very informative introduction. The translation, product of a long collaboration between two talented and meticulous poets, is always well-judged and reliable." Poetry Society member Timothy Ades

Raptors, Toon Tellegen (Carcanet)
Translated from the Dutch by Judith Wilkinson

"Tellegen’s Raptors provide a bizarrely beautiful poetic experience ... What’s interesting is the way the repetition of ‘my father’ and the simplicity of structure juxtaposes, but also works in synergy with, the poetry’s rich, hyperbolical language." Poetry Society member Alex Osborne

"Judith Wilkinson’s translation serves the author very well. It didn’t feel like a translation at all, and there’s no higher compliment than that. And where a Dutch word can’t be translated, her inventions are inspired: "my mother could think so beautifully, so without frills and roundaboutness". A word that itself embodies what it means." Poetry Society member Lindsay Fursland

"I was unfamiliar with Toon Tellegen before I read Raptors, but was quickly drawn into his darkly comic world. Tellegen recounts a fairytale world of childhood and adolescence, which is much more Brothers Grimm than Disney; this world is dominated by Tellegen's father, a grotesque figure who clearly disturbed the poet's psyche in many ways." Poetry Sociey member Beth Jellicoe

"Never have I seen a protagonist in a poem who is so dictatorial yet made of smoke ... It takes a great writer to describe someone in floating, surreal snippets yet never, never straightforwardly say who they really are." Poetry Society member Ameerah Arjanee

"Tellegen, unknown to me before I read “Raptors”, kept surprising me with his insights into the interaction between daily life and mythology and how the unique can suddenly transcend the world." Poetry Society member Bill Jenkinson

"The central theme of the collection is the young man’s search for a male role model; Tellegen is surely not alone in considering his father ‘my sun’. He monumentalizes the father to an almost Biblical extent, a father who ‘moved heaven and earth’, ‘sat on a mountain’ and ‘begot surprise’." Poetry Society member Alex Shaw

Lines Poems Poetry, Mircea Ivănescu (University of Plymouth Press)
Translated from the Romanian by Adam J Sorkin and Lidia Vianu

"Mircea Ivănescu tells stories: narratives with no conclusions, fragments of experience or of a dream or an imagined or existing book. He explores human emotions, love and loss, jealousy, remorse, loneliness and death, sometimes with great poignancy but often using humour and a sense of the absurd as a distancing device..." Poetry Society member Caroline Maldonado

"I am delighted with the seemingly casual report of the daily, the domestic and the local; the way interior voice externalizes itself briefly to offer us a fragment of a longer narrative; and the inclusion of the process in some of the poems: eg ‘about a chair’ tell about it, circling/it, even sitting on it."  Poetry Society member Joan Michelson

"Ivănescu’s narratives are shifts in perception; in the poem myopia the ground of the poem moves from the evening to coffee cups, and then looks forward “ahead there’s always something like a bend,”. Ivanescu’s distillation of his life experience within fluid verse lines is an effortless opening to the reader of his private world." Poetry Society member Alice Willington

"The main characters in the book are absolute nature, with half the poems set against snow, the others against non-negotiable sun or rain. Themes of stasis and absence pervade every poem: nothing happens, nothing changes, and disinterested silence surrounds the poems like snowfields.” Poetry Society member Anna Johnson

Email: Sophie Baker
Telephone: 020 7420 9895