Lecturer's rendition of a famous Irish poem is judges' unanimous choice. Now she's back to running classes at the uni - and The Grapes on Trippett Lane
Dr Kaarina Hollo of Sheffield university has won an award for doing a rather marvellous thing: giving fresh life to a famous poem through the form of a new translation.
Irish Gaelic speakers, at ease with one of the oldest languages still used in the British Isles, have long enjoyed the work of Derry O'Sullivan, but that has been less easy for those us with English only, and maybe a smattering of something to help on holidays.
I know we should learn a particular language if we are keen to enjoy its literary treasures; and maybe Irish Gaelic will join my – and others' – list of retirement projects. But in the meanwhile congratulations to Dr Hollo who has taken first prize with her O'Sullivan poem in the Open Award section of the Times/Stephen Spender prize for poetry in translation.
She is down in London today, Tuesday 13 November, along with other award winners in four categories which attracted entries from poetry translators aged between eight and 86. The range is impressive; the finalists in the under-14 section alone translated poetry from French, Spanish, Bengali and Dutch.
Dr Rollo's choice was O'Sullivan's Marbhghin 1943: Glaoch ar Liombo, an elegy on his stillborn brother by the 68-year-old poet, a former priest who is now married with three children and teaches at universities in Paris. The poem has previously been translated into English by Michael Davitt and O'Sullivan himself has translated Irish poetry into French and collaborated with a Mexican artist in Latin. But Hollo's work was rated by the judges as exceptional and especially welcome.
The poem is described in The Cambridge History of Irish Literature as:
one of the most achingly beautiful Irish poems of the twentieth century
and Hollo's feeling for its power may come in part from her cosmopolitan background; she is a one-woman example of the diverse world of the north of England today. A lecturer in Irish at Sheffield, she says:
My own family background is German, Finnish, Latvian and Kashubian, so I have never considered myself someone with a fixed mono-cultural identity. I could perhaps see myself as a bit of a translation.
She is also the daughter of two literary translators and the grand-daughter of a third, although none of these connections lead to Ireland. She says:
People are sometimes surprised to find out that I have no family connection to Ireland. but the Irish language and the literature and culture associated with it are so rich and interesting that there is really no reason for that.
I first got into the language through listening to Irish music as a child, particularly the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. I didn't actually start studying it until I was 13 or so, when a friend of the family gave me a copy of Teach Yourself Irish.
Now she enjoys helping others do the same, with her own outpost of the Gaeltacht at a community-based Irish language class which is sponsored by the Sheffield Irish Association. Classes are held at The Grapes on Trippett Lane in Sheffield and now attract more than 25 enthusiasts aged from 20-70.
You can read her translation Stillborn 1943: Calling Limbo, see the poem in the original Irish and check out the judges' comments at length on the website of the Stephen Spender Trust here.