Anne Carson for her translation from the Greek of An Oresteia: Agamemnon by Aiskhylos; Elektra by Sophokles; Orestes by Euripides

The PEN Award for Poetry in Translation recognizes book-length translations of poetry from any language into English published in the previous calendar year and is judged by a single translator of poetry appointed by the PEN Translation Committee. Past honorees include David Hinton for his translation of The Selected Poems of Wang Wei; Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld for their co-translation of Open Closed Open by Yehuda Amichai; Anne Twitty for her translation of Maria Negroní’s Islandia; Pierre Joris for his translation of Lightduress by Paul Celan; and Wilson Baldridge for his translation of Recumbents by Michel Deguy.

2010 Judge

Richard Sieburth

From the Judges’ Citation

“Trained as a classicist, Anne Carson has always placed translation—the movement across boundaries—at the center of her experiments in various genres (poems, essays, libretti, prose criticism, verse novels). Her most notable versions from the Greek and Latin include her parallel-text rendering of Sappho, If Not, Winter (2002), her Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides (2006) and, most recently, the mixed media box entitled Nox in which she works through the death of her brother by a careful word-by-word parsing of Catullus’s famous elegy for his own lost sibling (‘frater, ave atque vale’)—the translatrix here transformed into Isis ingathering the remnants of her lost Osiris.

Translation, mourning, the need to repair and restore the shattered bonds of kinship—all these inform Carson’s latest work for the page and stage. Called An Oresteia (to distinguish it from The Oresteia of Aeschylus), this triptych boldly juxtaposes three versions of the House of Atreus myth by three different playwrights, separated by half a century of drastic Athenian history: Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Sophocles’ Electra, and Euripides’ Orestes. Although the three tragedians provide very distinct visions of divine and human justice, in Carson’s condensed and accelerated account the three plays merge into a single oratorio organized around three major voices: the fractured melodics of Kassandra; the sustained keening of Elektra; and the baffled riffs of Orestes, her suicidal brother. The idiom in which this tragedy takes place in is spare and demotic; the pace fast but sure. Though lineated and skillfully metered as free verse, Carson’s translation also asks to be heard (and played) as common speech—for as Goethe finely observed, the intoxications of poetry are often finest in translation when rendered in the sober light of prose.”


Seamus Heaney for his translation from the Scots of The Testament of Cresseid & Seven Fables by Robert Henryson
Rika Lesser for her translation from the Swedish of Mozart’s Third Brain by Goran Sonnevi