Tuesday, 22 March 2016

We Take Refuge From Bombs In Poems

'We take refuge from bombs in poems.'
                                                          -Gokcenur Celebioglu
As it's World Poetry Day, I thought it moot to turn away from the litanies of violence convulsing Turkey and look at something else instead - its poetry.

Poems pervade the very air in Turkey. You can't get very far without encountering some expression in verse, whether it's written on a wall or a sudden uttered phrase. It's a living, breathing thing, unencumbered by the baggage tag of 'Literature' that so often weighs down the reputation of verse in the UK. All too often, over here, people are vaguely embarrassed when they talk of poetry - it's all seen as something a bit affected. Over there, it is embraced, seen as life-affirming and life-enhancing. And also a way for feelings to be vented against the political classes - it is no coincidence that the number of graffiti poems increased substantially after the Gezi Park debacle.
The #SiirSokakta ('Poems on the Street')  are literally everywhere:

Often an outpouring of love, of frustration, of anger, of joy, these verses are very much of the people, by the people. 

Yet Turkish poetry is woefully unknown in the English speaking world. Why is this? After all, it is a huge rich seam, running through the centuries, intermingled with the cultures around it. Turkish, Arabic, Farsi. Pashto, Urdu - they all commune with and inform each other, much as the poetic tradition in the west did, between French, Italian, Spanish, German and English, to name a few. But it is as if there is a block, a wall, between these groups, in particular when it comes to English poetry. There's little or no sense of communion, of borrowing ideas and forms between neighbours. 

Largely, it's because Turkish poetry just doesn't get translated into English in the first place. The partial reason for this, I think, is the lack of connection, either through proximity, as in European works, or through relationship, as in poetry written in countries that were formerly parts of the British Empire. It's a very great shame, and our loss - poetry is the very rhythm of other lives, and to not know it is to not know the secret heart of other cultures. Right now, we could do with more translating, more understanding.

I've known my good friend Neil Docherty since we used to wander the bars of Istanbul over twenty years ago. He still lives in the city, teaching at Bilgi University and making translations from an array of Turkish poets, from Asik Veysel and Nazim Hikmet. to Orhan Veli and Oktay Rifat, right up to contemporary writers. Once written, he puts them up on his Facebook page, The Open Boat, with beautifully evocative images. What I would hope to see is all his hard work put into an anthology one day, so that more people can appreciate this largely overlooked (in English-speaking countries, at least) literary tradition.

I'll leave you with three poems, translated by Neil.

Ece Ayhan

Phaeton
for Erol Gülercan
What’s playing on his master's voice gramophone
is it seems the delicate melancholy of her loneliness
my sister boarded a phaeton of suicidal black
as it passed through the streets of pera’s deathly love
rapturously perhaps she who had garden fulls of flowers
stops in front of a flowerless florist’s
with a montenegrin revolver enshrouded in tulle
in the window algerian violets and photographs of oleanders
I who have not tried suicide these past three nights do not know
if the ascension to heaven of a suicidal black phaeton and its horses
was down to my sister chosing to buy the Algerian violets.
Fayton
Erol Gülercan'a
O sahibinin sesi gramofonlarda çalınan şey
incecik melankolisiymiş yalnızlığının
intihar karası bir faytona binmiş geçerken ablam
caddelerinden ölümler aşkı pera'nın
Esrikmiş herhal bahçe bahçe çiçekleri olan ablam
çiçeksiz bir çiçekçi dükkanının önünde durmuş
tüllere sarılmış mor bir karadağ tabancasıyla
zakkum fotoğrafları varmış cezayir menekşeleri camekânda
Ben ki son üç gecedir intihar etmedim hiç, bilemem
intihar karası bir faytonun ağışı göğe atlarıyla birlikte
cezayir menekşelerini seçip satın alışından olabilir mi ablamın.

Ahmet Ada


Day
I have been listening to music twenty four hours of the day. The
teapot bubbling away in the kitchen. The moon falls like strings
into my night. A poem waits to be written on the table.
A poem in tatters waiting to be gathered up.
Day breaks over the fisherman’s cafe. The sun
casts its fishing line into the sea.
Gün
Gün yirmi dört saat müzik dinliyorum. Çaydanlık
mutfakta fokurduyor. Ay düşüyor incesaz
geceme. Şiir, yazılmayı bekliyor masada.
Şiir paramparça toplanmayı bekliyor.
Gün ağarıyor balıkçı kahvesinden. Güneş
oltasını uzatıyor denize.

Ülkü Tamer


Its name was Death
When I first saw it its name was death
And afterwards it did not change a bit;
From the fortress of a city they displayed it
I saw it and the forest far away,
No matter what I did its name would not change.
They gave me a sword for some wars
And behind it they built me a house;
They gave me a spade for some wars
And behind it I built them a house;
In the evenings I toiled over the flowers a bit,
Some of my neighbours grew old and became flowers,
In the evenings with the others I would have dinner,
As we gathered together death grew, its name was death
As the city grew it became restless and headed out into the markets.
Its name was death because when we created it
The bird on its lips bled every evening
Its name was death when I moved to it every night
From the gallows tree I had grown used to
Laughing at the the dark emptiness of the throat
It was death, that would wander the streets of the city
That brought the clock tower right into my sleep.
Death was so much death and so diligent too
That no one could save me save death itself.
Ölümdü Adı
Ölümdü adı onu ilk gördüğümde
Sonraları da hiç değişmedi;
Kalesinden gösterdiler bir şehrin onu,
Onu gördüm ve ormanı gördüm uzakta,
Ne yapsam değişmiyecekti adı.
Bir kılıç verdiler bazı savaşlar için,
Arkasından bir ev kurdular bana;
Bir kazma verdiler bazı savaşlar için,
Arkasından bir ev kurdum onlara;
Akşamları çiçeklerle uğraştım biraz,
Yaşlanır, çiçek olurdu bazı komşularım,
Akşamları yemek yerdim bazılarıyla;
Biz toplandıkça büyürdü ölüm, adı ölümdü,
Şehir büyüdükçe azar, çıkardı çarşılara.
Adı ölümdü çünkü onu yarattığımız zaman,
Her akşam kanardı dudaklarındaki kuş
Ölümdü adı, ona her gece taşındığımda
Alışkın olduğum bir darağacından,
Gülerken boğazının karanlık boşluğuna
Ölümdü, sokaklarında dolaşırdı şehrin,
Saat kulesini getirmişti uykularıma.
O kadar ölümdü ki, o kadar da çalışkan,
Kimseler kurtaramazdı beni ölümden başka.





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