Do you know anyone who collects books of poetry?
For reasons we have examined previously, poetry has a tough time garnering an audience these days. In fact, most modern poetry never finds a publisher. Much of the poetry that does make it into print appears not as an imprint of major commercial publishers, but as the imprint of academic or small independent publishers, or private and fine presses.
The situation is even worse for "foreign" poetry seeking an English-speaking audience. Because most English-speaking collectors (at least those in the Americas) are monolingual, even private libraries that do focus on poetry often exclude poetry in other languages.
Thankfully, some collectors do make exceptions for poetry published in English translation. Fortunately, also, a number of prizes are awarded for such translations, lacking which much excellent poetry probably never would make it onto the shelves of English-speaking book collectors.
One of the most important poetry translation prizes -- the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for Poetry Translated from a European Language into English (known more simply as The Popescu Prize) -- seems to be much better known to European book collectors than to collectors in the Americas:
Formerly known as the European Poetry Translation Prize (1983-1997),
the Prize was relaunched in 2003, and renamed in memory of the young Romanian translator Corneliu M Popescu, who died in an earthquake in 1977, aged 19. Popescu translated the work of one of Romania's leading poets, Mihai Eminescu, into English.
Alan Brownjohn, who had a major role in the re-launch of this prize, has described elsewhere some of the difficulties involved in awarding a translation prize:
too many of the books entered for [a translation prize provide] ... little incentive for even open-minded and sympathetic readers to take much interest in them; a sad disservice to the poets. Several titles [are] rejected because, while commendable in themselves ... they [offer] too small a selection. Other, longer books [lack] useful, informative introductions giving clear impressions of what to look for, surely a necessary courtesy to readers who may be unfamiliar with [a poet] or his/her language....
Increasingly, translations are being done without the collaboration of a native English speaker. It's not hard to see why: the translators earn points for knowledge of English and the desire to break down barriers. And native speakers with knowledge and time to give, unpaid, are hard to find (translating verse is a slow, delicate and exhausting process.) But this practice usually results in poor, wooden, or just plain faulty versions. It spreads misunderstanding of the poetry....
As is the case with most other translation prizes, the Popescu prize money goes to the translator, not to the poet. What the poet gets, hopefully, is increased sales of his or her poetry.
The shortlist for this year's prize may be found here. The poets and publishers in this list were winnowed from 73 entries published in 25 European languages....