Usually when translators apply for prizes and awards, they do so by submitting excerpts from their works-in-progress, i.e. bits of whatever they happen to be translating at the moment. This means that the jury members reading submissions for such prizes constantly wind up comparing oranges and apples, and generally judges are asked to take into account the quality not only of the translation itself but also the selected work. But I’m fascinated by prizes that have everyone translating the same text. This is a completely different approach to the competitive or sportive side of translation and allows the most skilled translators to show off their chops while also highlighting the power that any one translator’s personal style and interpretative panache have to shape a text. You can see these principles at work both in the on-line translation slams I curate on the PEN American Center website and the live slams that have become a staple of the yearly PEN World Voices Festival. The new Gutekunst Prize for young translators from the German assigns a single passage to every translator wishing to participate in the competition. And now a new prize for Russian poetry translation is using a variation on this approach. Applicants for the new annual Compass Award for Russian poetry in English are required to submit work by a single poet. In its inaugural year, the competition will center on the work of poet Nikolay Gumilyov, born 125 years ago. Gumilyov was married as a young man to the great Anna Akhmatova (they later divorced) and was known for poetry inspired by the literature of childhood and the flora and fauna of Africa while also preserving a strong focus on literary craft. Gumilyov co-founded the Acmeist school of poetry, and in 1921 was executed by forces of the new Bolshevist state on allegations of monarchist conspiracy.
To compete for the 2011 Compass Award, follow the instructions on the website of the journal Cardinal Points which is sponsoring the award. All entries must be received by July 15, 2011.