The Gabo Prize for Literature in Translation & Multilingual Texts

Issue 17: Summer/Fall 2020

Special Guest Judge, Ilya Kaminsky

The winner of this year’s Gabo Prize is “Panama, whether in the Pacific or the Atlantic.” I admired the longish intricate sentences of this poem, and how fluid the poet’s voice is, how the tonality of the poem and its syntax walk hand in hand, from one stanza into another. It is not an easy thing to be able to capture such a tonality in translation, not an easy task at all—and so the translator should be congratulated on doing so with gusto, with skill.

But wait! what am I talking about? What kind of tonality is this, exactly?

This prize is named after Marquez, and his metaphorical, magical style is something that makes a bold appearance in the tone of this poem. The speaker looks for the childhood home, Panama, wherever it might be: “Panama it’s you I always / find even by other paths, / where I whistle to the creatures that assemble in the deep, / with my child’s lamp.” Like Marquez, this poet is unafraid of the magical, unafraid to discover, everywhere, “the marks of childhood like a butterfly on a hat.” There is a romantic innocence in this longing, yes, but also an experience of someone who has lost, and is unwilling to settle for anything, anything, anything but Panama, wherever it might be. A beautiful poem.

Ilya Kaminsky is the author of the widely acclaimed Deaf Republic (Graywolf, 2019), which Kevin Young, writing in The New Yorker, called a work of “profound imagination.” Poems from Deaf Republic were awarded Poetry magazine’s Levinson Prize and the Pushcart Prize. He is also the author of Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004), and Musica Humana (Chapiteau Press, 2002). He is the editor of several anthologies, among them The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, co-edited with Susan Harris, which John Ashbery praised as “immediately indispensable;” A God in the House: Poets Talk About Faith, co-edited with Katherine Towler; and Gossip and Metaphysics: Russian Modernist Poets and Prose co-edited with Katie Farris and Valzhyna Mort . He and Jean Valentine’s translations of Marina Tsvetaeva can be found in Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva. Kaminsky has won the Whiting Writer’s Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, the Dorset Prize, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and the Foreword Magazine’s Best Poetry Book of the Year award. Recently, he was on the short-list for the Neusdadt International Literature Prize. His poems have been translated into numerous languages and his books have been published in many countries including Turkey, Holland, Russia, France, Mexico, Macedonia, Romania, Spain and China, where his poetry was awarded the Yinchuan International Poetry Prize.

Excerpts from “Singing Through Clenched Teeth”

by Yoysef Kerler translated by Maia Evrona