New York, NY (September 9, 2020)— The Academy of American Poets and Words Without Borders are pleased to announce the following winners of the 2020 Poems in Translation Contest, whose four winning translated poems were selected by the editors of Words Without Borders and contest judge David Tomas Martinez from more than 900 poems translated from 58 languages. The winning poets and translators will be awarded $150 each and their winning poems will be co-published in Poem-a-Day, the popular daily poetry series produced by the Academy of American Poets, and on Words Without Borders every remaining Saturday in September, which is National Translation Month, and the first Saturday of October. 

The Poems in Translation Contest was launched in 2019 by Words Without Borders, the digital magazine for international literature, in partnership with the Academy of American Poets to spotlight some of the groundbreaking poets working around the world today and to celebrate the art of translating poetry. 

The four winners are: 

1. "Learning Late Letters" by Nguyễn Hoàng Quyên, translated from Vietnamese by the author (to be published in Poem-a-Day on September 12)

“‘Learning Late Letters’ blends and disforms sampled lyrics from Vietnamese-French writer Linda Lê and Vietnamese-Vietnamese writer Trần Dần. The juxtaposition of the former gaining recognition while writing outside Vietnam and the latter’s largely posthumously praised writing from within Vietnam, created for me a triangulated experience of diaspora, particularly with the poet’s own voice indecipherably connected to the two already melded voices. What is literature but us writing with our ancestors? And is not history but an adoption of ancestral perceptions? This epistolary poem eruditely juggles historical and literary complexities while also maintaining an exquisitely bedecked language. And like culture, it cyclically tumbles ideas about the frequency of the number 36, about death, about speaking, over and over changing them as we experience each line.” —David Tomas Martinez

Nguyễn-Hoàng Quyên, born in 1993, is a translator, writer, and curator based in Vietnam.

2. "Pegasus Autopsy" by Julio Pazos Barrera, translated from Spanish by Bryan Mendoza (to be published in Poem-a-Day on September 19)

“‘Pegasus Autopsy’ is a clinical precision of a poem. The wonder hum of fluorescent light fixtures can be felt in each sparse line. In this wholly modern poem, myth perishes in the cathedral of modern science, the hospital. The only simile is an anachronistic mode of travel, sailing, where it too, perishes after having suffered a shipwreck. Everywhere here the old falls to the new. This poem is as tragic as it is beautiful, and every word feels purposeful. In the culmination of the poem, after the lifeless body of Pegasus has been inspected, drained of any usefulness to the modern, utilitarian obsessed world, its wings, the physical symbol of its transcendence, are to be aggregated into a landfill, the modern monument to mystery, which is to say it is “including the wings” with our other secrets. Knowledge and beauty are commodified. Accessing and ultimately discarding is the process of this world’s growth to this poem. Show me the lie.” —David Tomas Martinez 

Julio Pazos Barrera, born in Baños, Ecuador, in 1944, is a poet, literary critic, and connoisseur of traditional Ecuadorian cuisine. He holds a Doctorate in Spanish literature at the Catholic University of Ecuador and has worked as a professor at various universities around the world. In 2010, he was awarded the National Ecuadorian Prize in Literature by Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.

Bryan Mendoza, born in Miami, Florida, in 1998, is currently a senior at Yale University studying literature and comparative cultures. He spends most of his time as a volunteer instructor for Yale’s Splash and Sprout teaching programs and working at the Sterling Memorial Library. Currently, Bryan aims to become an educator and focus on translation studies during his last year at Yale.

3. "Trial Run" by Yau Ching, translated from Chinese by Chenxin Jiang (to be published in Poem-a-Day on September 26)

“‘Trial Run’ is a brilliant poem. Despite the “puzzle” of the poem, it can be returned to again and again. In the white space of the poem resides our fears about mortality, playing out the mind’s tireless effort to occlude temporality. It is a shroud of absence. The poem slightly adjusts and comments, culminating with a playfulness that calls back the title, Trial Run, which in itself comments on life. If sleeping really is the practice for eternity, maybe death is the sad championship of the living. We train to die. In this poem, just add death.” —David Tomas Martinez

Yau Ching, born in Hong Kong, has authored more than ten books, including award-winning poetry collections, and recently, a series of collected writings on film, art and politics, including You dong di ying (Hong Kong: Culture Plus, 2017); You yu yi (Hong Kong: Culture Plus, 2015), Wo cong wei ying xu ni yi ge mei gui yuan (Hong Kong: Culture Plus, 2014). She teaches in Hong Kong. 

Chenxin Jiang translates from Italian, German, and Chinese. Recent translations include Tears of Salt: A Doctor’s Story by Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta (Norton), shortlisted for the 2019 Italian Prose in Translation Award, Volatile Texts: Us Two by Zsuzsanna Gahse (Dalkey Archive), and the PEN/Heim-winning The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution by Ji Xianlin (NYRB). Last year, she was a judge for the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize. Until recently, she was Senior Editor (Chinese) at Asymptote Journal.

4. "Birds in Flight, 1965" Enrique Villasis, translated from Filipino by Bernard Capinpin (to be published in Poem-a-Day on October 3)

“‘Birds In Flight, 1965’ enters readers in a moment of time that emblemizes a natural phenomenon, that of birds flying together, as metaphor for not exactly transcendence (it’s more disseminated than an epiphanic acme), but as the Post-Modern expression of cohesive simultaneity. Meaning, the speaker experiences via the birds flying separately yet concordantly an immanence and a transcendence, a growth and a regression, a lightness and a density, an innocence and a wisdom. This aspect of the poem is quite Blakean, in its truest sense of camaraderie, as in Yin-Yang, not focusing on differences but on intersectionality, which is so beautifully expressed through the chick nesting in a translucent eggshell or the sole (soul’s) curtsy to the mimosa.” —David Tomas Martinez

Enrique S. Villasis is a poet and a screenwriter, born in Milagros, Masbate, Philippines. He has received numerous national literary awards for his poems. His first book of poems, Agua, was a finalist for a National Book Award. He is a member of Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo. He lives in Quezon City and currently writes television shows for ABS-CBN.  

Bernard Capinpin is a poet and translator. He is currently working on translation of Ramon Guillermo’s Ang Makina ni Mang Turing. He resides in Quezon City.

Join the Academy of American Poets and Words Without Borders for “World in Verse: A Multilingual Poetry Reading” and virtual celebration of the winners on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. The event will feature readings by Bryan Mendoza, Enrique Villasis, Bernard Capinpin, Chenxin Jiang, and others, and will be hosted by contest judge David Tomas Martinez.

World in Verse: A Multilingual Poetry Reading
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
8:00 PM EDT
Free with advance registration*

About Words Without Borders

Words Without Borders is the premier destination for a global literary conversation and winner of a 2018 Whiting Literary Magazine Prize. Founded in 2003, WWB seeks to expand cultural understanding by giving readers unparalleled access to contemporary world literature in English translation while providing a vital platform for today’s international writers. To date, its free digital magazine has published more than 2,500 pieces of writing from 136 countries, translated from 116 languages. Contributors include literary heavyweights like Elena Ferrante, Han Kang, and Roberto Bolaño, and rising stars like Prabda Yoon, Mariana Enriquez, and Jokha Alharthi. WWB’s online education program, WWB Campus, brings this eye-opening international literature into the classroom.

About the Academy of American Poets

The Academy of American Poets is the nation’s leading champion of poets and poetry with supporters in all fifty states. Founded in 1934, the organization produces, the world’s largest publicly funded website for poets and poetry; originated and organizes National Poetry Month; publishes the popular Poem-a-Day series and American Poets magazine; provides award-winning resources to K–12 educators, including the Teach This Poem series; administers the American Poets Prizes; hosts an annual series of poetry readings and special events; and coordinates a national Poetry Coalition working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture. Through its prize program, the organization annually awards more funds to individual poets than any other organization, giving a total of $1,250,000 to more than 200 poets at various stages of their careers. This year, in response to the global health crisis, the Academy joined six other national organizations to launch Artist Relief, a multidisciplinary coalition of arts grantmakers and a consortium of foundations working to provide resources and funding to the country’s individual poets, writers, and artists who are impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In another similar effort, the Academy, along with two other literary arts organizations—the Council of Literary Magazines & Presses and the National Book Foundation—established the Literary Arts Emergency Fund, which will grant emergency relief funding to magazines, presses, and literary arts organizations across the U.S. that have experienced financial losses as a result of the pandemic.