A pupil at Christ’s Hospital School fought off stiff competition to win The Stephen Spender Prize 2020 for poetry in translation in the 14-and-under category. Hannah Jordan, Year 10, won first prize out of over a thousand entries with her translation of a Tamil poem and received her prize at a virtual ceremony on 18th November.
Hannah continues a great tradition of poetry translation at Christ’s Hospital; many of the school’s students have had success in the competition in recent years, translating from a host of different languages, including Japanese, Swedish, Russian, Swahili and Modern Greek, among others, which reflects the school’s diversity.
The judges agreed that Hannah’s “thoughtfully translated” poem And Yet – Our Tamil Life by Manushya Puthiran was a worthy winner of the 14-and-under category, and called Hannah’s translation “both funny and moving,” “boisterous, charming” and “a poem full of wisdom for our difficult times.” One of the judges, Daljit Nagra, an award-winning poet and lecturer in Creative Writing at Brunel University, London, commented to say: “I was delighted that a poem translated from Tamil became our winner, especially as this indicates the wide range of languages our winning entries came from.”
Hannah described in the commentary that accompanied her entry how she liked the poem because it was so true to her experience of life in India. “When we visit my family are constantly fixing things for my grandparents. As soon as we arrive, my dad puts together a long list of all the things that need fixing; inevitably, when we return, there is another list, yet we all get by just fine, even if the monsoon winds blow through the gaps in the wall.”
Hannah found the poem on a website, then worked with her mum on any tricky Tamil words then, in classic fashion, developed her literal version (what translators call a ‘trot’) into something more poetic, including for example the clever device of the repetition of ‘And yet’ in each stanza. “One difficulty was making sure that the poem sounded funny in English yet kept the specific Tamil problems in the translation,” says Hannah.
The Stephen Spender Trust is a charity promoting literary translation and multilingualism through school workshops and the annual Stephen Spender Prize for poetry translation, organised in association with the Guardian. For more information, please go to:
The link below takes you to the online event and Hannah reads her poem at 16:37:
AND YET— OUR TAMIL LIFE
Manushya Puthiran (2001)
Translated by Hannah Jordan
These doorbells –
Does it matter they don’t ring?
None of my visitors
Have gone without today’s gossip.
The bathroom latch is broken, so what?
A year and a half has gone by.
No one’s privacy has been invaded,
No daydreams interrupted.
The chair may have a broken leg,
Its balance a little rocky.
To the startled guest,
Not a hint of disrespect.
For more than a week now,
My car-brakes have been failing.
God keeps watch on this city.
Still I return home,
In one full piece.
I suffer a pain in my belly,
But what can I do?
Nowadays it returns frequently.
If I recline at a certain angle,
I can just about bear the pain.
Predicaments may be endless
In most parts of our life,
Tamil life is plain sailing,
A thread without knots.