Award for Translating Contemporary French Poetry

Dr David McCallam has been awarded Third Prize in this year’s highly competitive John Dryden Translation Competition organized by the British Comparative Literature Association and the British Centre for Literary Translation.

Sketch of Tarkos by fellow poet Charles Pennequin
Sketch of Tarkos by fellow poet Charles Pennequin Wikicommons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

There were over 100 entries, across 29 languages, for this year’s competition. David won the award for his translation of two poems by the Marseille-based performance poet Christophe Tarkos (1963-2004).

The translations are entitled ‘No Words but Word-Dough’ and ‘The Feeling’ taken respectively from Tarkos’s texts ‘Il y a pâte-mot’ and ‘Le sentiment’.

Along with the other winning entries (in Italian and Russian), David’s translations will be published in full later this year in the journal Comparative Critical Studies and on the journal’s Edinburgh University Press website.

David explains: ‘I first came across Christophe Tarkos’s poetry in 2022 at the Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain (FRAC) in Marseille. There was an installation about his work and a collection of his texts. The installation included a series of videos of Tarkos performing his poems. I was mesmerized, so I went out and bought a recently published edition of his poetry.

It’s no coincidence that Tarkos hails from Marseille and that I came across his works there. With its Centre international de poésie Marseille, the city is the beating heart of the French poetry scene (despite what Parisians might tell you). 

In terms of the translation process, I had to respect the fact that Tarkos treats words as substances and texts as performative. So it was incredibly helpful for me to be able to try out these translations as performances in March 2023 when we organized a translation round table with multilingual readings in the Drama Studio, as part of our Modern Languages Drama Festival. With my colleague Aurore Sansinena reading the French source texts, I read my translations of these Tarkos poems, and found it to be a moving and immersive experience.’

Last year David won Second Prize in the prestigious Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation.

In 2021, he also published a book-length translation of poetry, drawing on his research into the history and literature of the French revolutionary period, entitled André Chénier: Poetry and Revolution 1792-1794.

This most recent award is further proof of the deep-rooted vitality of literary translation across the School of Languages and Cultures. 

For example, in 2022, Dr Louise Johnson published – to much acclaim –  her second novel translated from Catalan, Ruth by Guillem Viladot. Dr Henriette Louwerse led a team of students of Dutch in a project to translate the graphic novel Quaco; My Life in Slavery, revealing to an Anglophone audience the extent of Dutch involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Dr Adam Fergus adapted Angela Livingstone's translation of Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva’s major work, Ratcatcher, to create a powerful piece of live theatre, in collaboration with Charlie Barnes of Dead Earnest Theatre company. This was part of the city-wide Festival of the Mind.

For all linguists and budding translators, please also consider entering the School of Languages & Cultures’ latest Translation Competitions in French, Spanish, German and Russian for Year 12 and Year 13 students across the UK.

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