Cat in an empty apartment

Dying – one doesn’t do that to a cat. 
For what can a cat do
in an empty apartment.
Scratching against the walls. 
Rubbing on the furniture.
In a way, nothing here was changed, 
and yet it has been altered.
In a way, nothing was moved,
and yet it has been confused.
In the evening, the light burns no more. 

Footsteps heard on the stairway,
but not those.
The hand, which lays fish on the plate, 
is too not the one, that did it once. 

Something does not begin here 
at its usual time.
Something does not happen here 
as it should.
Someone was, and was here 
then at-all-once disappeared 
and now he’s persistently gone.

It peered into all the cupboards.
Scampered across the shelves.
Wedged itself under the rug, investigated. 
Even went against the rule
and scattered the papers.

What else is there to do. 
Sleeping, waiting.

Let him dare return,
let him dare show himself.
Right away he’ll learn,
that one doesn’t do this to a cat. 
There will be a stroll in his direction 
as though utterly begrudging,
little by little,
on most offended paws.
And no leaps or chirps at first.


by Wisława Szymborska; translated by Amelia Sodhi

Kot w pustym mieszkaniu 

Umrzeć – tego się nie robi kotu. 
Bo co ma począć kot
w pustym mieszkaniu. 
Wdrapywać się na ściany. 
Ocierać między meblami.
Nic niby tu nie zmienione, 
a jednak pozamieniane. 
Niby nie przesunięte,
a jednak porozsuwane.
I wieczorami lampa już nie świeci.

Słychać kroki na schodach,
ale to nie te.
Ręka, co kładzie rybę na talerzyk, 
także nie ta, co kładła. 

Coś się tu nie zaczyna 
w swojej zwykłej porze. 
Coś się tu nie odbywa 
jak powinno.
Ktoś tutaj był i był,
a potem nagle zniknął
i uporczywie go nie ma. 

Do wszystkich szaf się zajrzało.
Przez półki przebiegło.
Wcisnęło się pod dywan i sprawdziło. 
Nawet złamało zakaz
i rozrzuciło papiery.
Co więcej jest do zrobienia.
Spać i czekać.

Niech no on tylko wróci, 
niech no się pokaże.
Już on się dowie,
że tak z kotem nie można. 
Będzie się szło w jego stronę 
jakby się wcale nie chciało, 
pomalutku,
na bardzo obrażonych łapach.
O żadnych skoków pisków na początek.


by Wisława Szymborska 

News from the Centre: in celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, the Poetry Centre is thrilled to bring together contemporary jazz band Wandering Wires and our Beatin’ the Blues competition winners to create a fusion performance of jazz and poetry on Sunday 28th April from 8-9pm at Cafe Tarifa, Cowley Road, Oxford. Book your tickets (only £5) here.

Then on 30 April, we’re at Waterstones to host four Canadian poets (Chad Campbell, James Arthur, Stephanie Warner, and Jim Johnstone) and celebrate the recent publication of an exciting new anthology of Canadian poetry. Sign up to attend here.

And on 20 May we are collaborating with the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture to bring the acclaimed poet Gillian Allnutt  to Oxford – don’t miss her!

Find out more about these and other upcoming events, including a reading by Ilya Kaminsky and Shara Lessley and the launch of three new ignitionpress pamphlets on our Eventbrite page.

This is the second of two poems we are featuring to celebrate the Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation, whichis currently open for entries until Friday 12 July. Translate any poem from any language, ancient or modern into English, and be in the running for a cash prize and publication by the Stephen Spender Trust. The categories for the main prize are 14-and-under, 18-and-under and Open (adult), and will be judged by the Poetry Centre’s own Mary Jean ChanMargaret Jull Costa and Olivia McCannon. For the second year, the Trust is also running a ‘Polish Spotlight‘, with workshops in schools and a special prize for translation from Polish in the categories 10-and-under, 14-and-under and 18-and-under. You can find more details on the Trust’s website.

The winner of last year’s Polish Spotlight in the 18-and-under category was Amelia Sodhi. Writing about her translation of Wisława Szymborska’s poem ‘Cat in an empty apartment’, Amelia says: ‘There are many poems on grief, but never from a cat’s perspective. When I was looking for a poem to translate, ‘Kot w pustym mieszkaniu’ stood out to me. Szymborska captures a beautiful melancholy in this poem, through simplicity, repetition, and notably through the more subjective narration in the last stanza. She is able to recreate a certain feeling of grief that, so far, I have struggled to find in other poems; her illustration of the pain of loss isn’t something over the top but something small, and hence, even more potent.’

The Stephen Spender Trust was established in 1997 to honour Stephen Spender’s achievements as poet and translator of poetry, and as champion of the rights of creative artists and writers to free expression. Founding members who have since died include Valerie Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Czesław Miłosz, Harold Pinter and Natasha Spender. Inspired by Stephen Spender’s literary interests and achievements, the Stephen Spender Trust aims to widen appreciation of the literary legacy of Stephen Spender and his contemporaries and to promote literary translation. You can find out more on the Trust’s website.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers

Love Song for the Ordnance Survey

Love Song for the Ordnance Survey

            What measure of time is sluicing
through the dappling rings of immortal hills?

            What weight the hollow-hearted burial mounds,
Saxon naves, felled steeples, tribal hill-forts,
ventilation mine-shafts, brick-born water towers,
analogue Cold War transmitters, pillbox viewpoints?

            What radius the boundary arcs,
the stamina of forests’ greened retreat
beaten back at the speckled blots of settlement,
the shaded/sloped river ruts, the symmetry of hangars?

            What current the canals, descending the lock’s silent-shift,
coal boats and Staffordshire china rising in the hulls
and sidelined, quickened by the railways
rising beside motorways, rising onwards? 

            What depth the medicinal baths, restoring spas
sought by new townsfolk, the tumulus of mill races
gone save for great unworking gears turning nothing
in damp summering fields?

            And what volume the settlements,
slumbering in bracketed old-world italics,
inherited after-other names, lost or erased,
the monikers of places declassified?

            What velocity the shifting coastlines
vanishing faster than any paper can skip a heartbeat to?
(and the winter peaks absolved in mists that can neither
be seen or heard, let alone measured?)

            Of all the demarcations multiplied
kept in their latitudinal squares, of each known
and unknown quantity, let us sing
of detail and capacity, the map’s measured love.

by Jane Commane

If you’re a student, don’t forget to enter our Beatin’ the Blues competition, for which we are asking you to respond in poetry to a song by Oxford-based jazz/electronic band Wandering Wires. If you’re one of the winners, we’ll invite you to read your work at a concert alongside the band! For more details, visit our website. The deadline for entries is this Friday!

More news! The Centre has teamed up with IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival and poet Kate Wakeling to run another poetry workshop for families on 15 April in Oxfordshire County Library. We’ll be encouraging participants to write brand new poems, ready for the  IF Oxford Poetry of Science Competition . So if you know anyone aged 6-16 who is keen on poetry and science, please bring them along! You can sign up here.

Then on 30 April, we’re at Waterstones to host four Canadian poets (Chad Campbell, James Arthur, Stephanie Warner, and Jim Johnstone) and celebrate the recent publication of an exciting new anthology of Canadian poetry. Sign up to attend here.

And on 20 May we are collaborating with the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture to bring the acclaimed poet Gillian Allnutt to Oxford – don’t miss her!

Find out more about these and other upcoming events on our Eventbrite page.

‘Love Song for the Ordnance Survey’ is copyright © Jane Commane, 2018. It is reprinted from Assembly Lines (Bloodaxe Books, 2018) by permission of Bloodaxe Books.

Assembly Lines asks what it means to be here and now, in post-industrial towns and cities of the heartlands that are forever on the periphery. From schools and workplaces and lives lived in ‘a different town, just like this’, these poems take a historical perspective on the present day from the ground upwards – whether the geological strata that underpins a ‘dithering island’ or the ever-moving turf under a racehorses’ hooves.

Jane Commane was born in Coventry and lives and works in Warwickshire. Her first full-length collection, Assembly Lines, was published by Bloodaxe in 2018. Her poetry has featured in anthologies including The Best British Poetry 2011 and Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam and in numerous magazines. Jane is editor at Nine Arches Press, co-editor of Under the Radar magazine, co-organiser of the Leicester Shindig poetry series, and is co-author (with Jo Bell) of How to Be a Poet, a creative writing handbook and blog series. In 2017 she was awarded a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship. You can hear Jane talk about and read from her book Assembly Lines on the BBC’s ‘Start the Week’ programme here and read more about her on her website.

Bloodaxe Books was founded in Newcastle by Neil Astley in 1978 and has revolutionised poetry publishing in Britain over four decades. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, our authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry, from the T.S. Eliot Prize and Pulitzer to the Nobel Prize. And books like the Staying Alive trilogy have broken new ground by opening up contemporary poetry to many thousands of new readers. Find out more about Bloodaxe on the publisher’s website.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.

On the Fjord

The night I left you
the fjord lay so still and clear 
as if the water itself
had lost all substance
It was like rowing in empty air 

Through a night so infinitely clear 
that I suddenly knew
I had to live without shadow
Up against the edge of sleep
away from the reach of your dreams 

The sound of years
in starless water. Like rowing
in one’s own heart
through a sorrow as deep and cold 
as death itself 

On the banks of the starlit shores 
along the strait, the houses lay 
and shone
with your face in every window 
And you did not see me

by Stein Mehren; translated from the Norwegian by Alice Fletcher

På fjorden

Den natten jeg forlot deg
lå fjorden så stille og gjennomsiktig 
som om selve vannet
hadde mistet all substans
Det var som å ro i tomme luften 

Over en natt så uendelig klar
at jeg plutselig visste
jeg måtte leve uten skygge
Helt nær søvnens skillelinje
utenfor rekkevidden av dine drømmer 

Lyden av årer
i stjernløst vann. Som å ro
i sitt eget hjerte
over en sorg så dyp og kald 
som døden selv 

Ved de stjerneklare breddene 
langs sundet, lå husene
og lyste
med ditt ansikt i alle vinduer 
Og du så meg ikke 

– Stein Mehren

The Centre has teamed up with IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival and poet Kate Wakeling to run two poetry workshops for families on 9 and 15 April in Oxfordshire County Library. We’ll be encouraging participants to write brand new poems, ready for the IF Oxford Poetry of Science Competition. So if you know anyone aged 6-16 who is keen on poetry and science, please bring them along! You can sign up here.

Then on 30 April, we’re at Waterstones to host four Canadian poets (Chad Campbell, James Arthur, Stephanie Warner, and Jim Johnstone) and celebrate the recent publication of an exciting new anthology of Canadian poetry. Sign up to attend here.

And on 20 May we are collaborating with the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture to bring the acclaimed poet Gillian Allnutt to Oxford – don’t miss her!

Find out more about these and other upcoming events on our Eventbrite page.

This week’s poem was the winner of the 2018 Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation in the Open category, and the 2019 Prize is currently open for entries until Friday 12 July. Translate any poem from any language, ancient or modern into English, and be in the running for a cash prize and publication by the Stephen Spender Trust. The categories for the main prize are 14-and-under, 18-and-under and Open (adult), and will be judged by the Poetry Centre’s own Mary Jean ChanMargaret Jull Costa and Olivia McCannon. The Trust is also running a ‘Polish Spotlight‘ for the second year, with workshops in schools and a special prize for translation from Polish in the categories 10-and-under, 14-and-under and 18-and-under.You can find more details on the Trust’s website.

The winning translator last year was Alice Fletcher. She writes: ‘I have translated ‘På fjorden’ by Stein Mehren because I think it is a perfect example of a typically Norwegian poem; the language is clean, crisp, and deceptively simple, while also being very evocative. As with so much Norwegian literature and poetry, it is deeply connected to nature, as can be seen from the title itself. The language of Mehren’s poem is simple but so poignant, and I think it is a poem that really makes one stop and think. Moreover, it is a poem about love, however tragic, which I think really brings the poem to life for readers.’ You can read more of Alice’s reflections, and find out more about the other prizewinners for 2018,  here.

The Stephen Spender Trust was established in 1997 to honour Stephen Spender’s achievements as poet and translator of poetry, and as champion of the rights of creative artists and writers to free expression. Founding members who have since died include Valerie Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Czesław Miłosz, Harold Pinter and Natasha Spender. Inspired by Stephen Spender’s literary interests and achievements, the Stephen Spender Trust aims to widen appreciation of the literary legacy of Stephen Spender and his contemporaries and to promote literary translation. You can find out more on the Trust’s website.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.