Corneliu M Popescu Prize 2007

Lisa Roberts reports on this year's shortlist and winner, Ilmar Lehtpere's translation of Kristiina Ehin's The Drums of Silence

The 2007 judges of the Corneliu M Popescu Prize for European Poetry in Translation had a tough time picking this year’s overall winner. But after much deliberation, Anne Born and Francis Jones, both translation experts and practising poets, agreed that the prize should be awarded to Ilmar Lehtpere for his translation of The Drums of Silence by Estonian-born Kristiina Ehin. 

Jones believes the prize is the most prestigious for translation, explaining that it is “the only one focusing on translated poetry, not only from one language or niche, but with specialised international focus. It is very respected.”

So what impressed the judges most about this year’s winner? For Anne Born, encountering a female poet from a culture relatively ‘new’ to British and even other European readers, was in itself a treasure, but the real delight was in the power of the poetry, even in translation. Born praised the “leisurely way of writing, the sophistication of the grammar and the very original, bright content.” Francis Jones appreciated the directness of imagery and magical notes. He explains “The translator is clearly bilingual and could capture both languages’ subtleties. Poetically familiar in one sense but strange in another.” Both judges agreed that this book would challenge cultural assumptions and celebrate the sophistication of poets and poetry all over Europe. 

Ilmar Lehtpere had a bilingual upbringing in Estonian and English. His translations of Estonian poetry have appeared in various literary journals in Europe and America. With The Drums of Silence Lehtpere provides a faithful and precise translation from the original Estonian, allowing the poems to graduate with sincerity and literary authority to another life in a new language. 

Kristiina Ehin is one of Estonia’s most beloved poets, having won the country’s most prestigious poetry prize. Her work reflects the influence of the traditional Estonian folk song, which dates back over 2000 years. It is honest, uncompromising, deeply personal, universal and utterly free.

from poetic fashion and convention. In Ehin’s poetry the judges found an approach to describing the natural world that was at once shamanic, drawing on deep historical traditions, but at the same time very new. 

The four shortlisted titles each had their own strengths. Willem Groenewegen’s translations of Rutger Kopland and George Messo’s translations of Ilmar Berk are valuable and beautiful translations of literary giants, from Holland and Turkey respectively. Robin Robertson’s versions of Tomas Tranströmer’s poetry provide an invigorating understanding of Tranströmer’s rich poetry. The judges described Martyn Crucefix’s translations of the Duino Elegies as “a milestone of translation and a landmark in European poetry”.

The Poetry Society was delighted with our judges’ decision. Ehin and her translator Lehtpere are both emerging. They also give voice to an identity that is only just beginning to flourish in the European consciousness, let alone on the shelves of lovers of poetry in English.  

The Corneliu M Popescu Prize for European Poetry in Translation was founded by the Poetry Society and the Ratiu Foundation to pinpoint the wealth of excellent poetry available across the continent. It is named after Corneliu M Popescu who translated the work of one of Romania’s leading poets, Mihai Eminescu, into English. On 4 March 1977, at the age of 19, Popescu was tragically killed in an earthquake. 

The next prize will be awarded in 2009 during the Poetry Society’s centenary year. The prize continues to support our aim to help poetry thrive not just nationally but globally.