Wednesday 31 March 2021

Yang Lian's Anniversary Snow wins the Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation


The inaugural Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation, which recognises the best book of poetry by a living poet from Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Middle East published in an English translation, was awarded last Thursday 25th March. The prize is an endeavour of the Poetry Translation Centre and is in memory of its founder, the late Sarah Maguire, who I knew for a few years before her untimely death and who was a brilliant poet in her own right as well as a champion of poetry from parts of the world often under-recognised in English translation. 

Out of a fascinatingly diverse field, the award went to the collection Anniversary Snow by Yang Lian, translated from Chinese by Brian Holton with further translations from WN Herbert, L. Leigh, Liang Lizhen, Pascale Petit, Fiona Sampson, George Szirtes and Joshua Weiner. Anniversary Snow is published by Shearsman Books and you can find it on their website here:  

The panel of judges commented: "The book is grounded in the historical roots of Chinese culture, poetry and art, but goes far beyond it, reinterpreting with poise and intelligence the very essence of our existence, from the changing landscape that surrounds us, the appeal of the natural world and the inner beauty of language, exemplifying its political force and its political teachings." 

The PTC website has several excellent articles regarding the prize but I particularly recommend this fascinating and touching article by the winning poet Yang Lian:

I'm delighted to be able to share a poem from Anniversary Snow. It appears below first in the original Chinese and then in its English translation. 


不能真 是不是美的? 想象一件河底撒开的

想象那双眼睛呛满 呛满

谁说死不是湿淋淋的和声? 河底的小窗亮着那演奏 河底 一个不停下的

不停找到漏下的 叶子向下而口向上

房子向下 的雪意向上 舌尖 住的是否远远?

想象一个落的自我 呛满历史的黑水 落如卵石


法除了剥开生命那件 身人形的茫茫



进这 力追赶自己的河底

亲飘散的白逆着美的方向  拓展噩耗 没目睹急急赶来



3. Poetic Inquiry − Another Embedded Voice

can’t be real is that beauty’s fault?
imagine a shirt spread out on the riverbed

steeping in the black of a Berlin night
imagine two eyes water-choked mother choking on water

who says death isn’t a drenched harmony?
a little window on the riverbed lights up the show riverbed a word that never stops leaping downwards

never stops finding leaked-out sobs leaves go down and wounds go up

houses down enjoyment of imminent snow goes up tongue tip is hooked ruin not enough by far?

imagine a self plunging down drowning in history’s black water plunging like a pebble

there’s no time other than a contraction of the lungs

there’s no grammar other than a shirt that strips life away say death’s immeasurable side-on human shape

is filling up with sediment again still not enough?
in self-indulgent poetry there are only newly-arrived words

touch in here he does all he can to pursue his own river bed to become it

mother’s vaporizing white travels in the opposite direction to beauty spreads the worst of news no one saw this poem coming so quickly

dazzling as

our aesthetic?

(from Anniversary Snow by Yang Lian, published by Shearsman Books)