Yusuf Eradam (1)
‘Turkish’ instead of ‘Turkey’
implies that no matter how we glorify our writers or
artists, by such word-plays we do persecute them later, we
send them to prison, to exile or we even assassinate them if
we think they are ‘dangerous enough’. For various reasons
but mainly due to their political opposition, writers,
poets, artists from all nations at all times in history have
suffered from compulsory exile. Imprisonment and sometimes
even torture have also been their fate before execution or
escape. Paradoxical but the poets’ or writers’ language and
its world of imagery they are denied the right to produce,
have always been their one and only haeven. That is why,
like most artists, poets and writers take refuge in the
vehicles and opportunities of their art at times of
oppression. No matter what happens to them, artists have to
create a source for hope. It is an activity of survival for
the artist and his people against all tyrants.
Nazim Hikmet, Turkey’s most
important and greatest poet, is also a poet who lived for
decades in exile and died in Communist Russia. Nazým had to
suffer imprisonment before he fled to the U.S.S.R, and his
grave is still there. Orhan Kemal’s book In Jail with
Nazim Hikmet (translated by Bengisu Rona) is one
book of memoirs. It clearly underlines the anomaly of
existence-in-jail, the ontological insecurity and the
necessity of holding onto friendship, solidarity and
creative activities, similar to learning to write better
poetry and the love of animals. Loving and taking care of a
white rabbit or preferring to share the taste of
strawberries with your fellow men despite a visitor waiting.
This is a good example of a way to keep intact ‘malgré les
dangers de mort’ as Paul Eluard says in his “Bonne Justice”.
Any human atrocity is a possibility in jail as Orhan Kemal
also hints at the presence of informer inmates.
Kemal (Mehmet Raþit Öðütçü), a most important novelist of
the Turkish Republic, and whose Arkadaþ Islýklarý
(Whistles of Friends) was the first novel I read that may
have inflicted me with joie de vivre no matter what
happens. I must have found support in the same novel for my
not being able to do without friends. Orhan Kemal, who
represents Turkish voice in Turkish fiction as much as Nazim
Hikmet, his idol, in Turkish poetry, gets the ‘good’ news
that his ‘master’ is also coming in when he was in
Bursa prison (1940-43).
of one’s literary master as an inmate reminded me of R.W.
Emerson’s and Henry David Thoreau’s friendship. Emerson, who
visited Thoreau in jail asked him: “Henry, what are you
doing in there?” Thoreau’s reply is: “Waldo, the question is
what are you doing out there?”. This explains why one has to
be in jail against the wrong deeds of authority if being
outside means conforming to the system that is killing the
lives of ‘others’. Thoreau refused to pay taxes as the
goverment was buying guns to kill Mexicans. Emerson was ‘out
there’ because he found no point in Thoreau’s protest, his
civil disobedience or his passive resistance, which he
clearly puts in words in his essay “On Civil Government”.
why for Orhan Kemal and the other dissident poets and the
intellectuals of Turkey of the 1940s who were imprisoned,
the arrival of Nazim Hikmet was like a reward as the
strength they gain by this news might also be a remedy to
their ontological insecurity. In Orhan Kemal’s memoirs, the
happy news of the master’s coming to share Kemal’s prison
life, arrives weeks before the master physically shows up,
very similar to the narrative technique in biographical
films with a flashback. Yes, I am implying that this book
would make a great biographical film of resistance against
oppression. First the master’s name comes to prison, his
mighty poetry, then Nazim arrives with the happy expression
on another prisoner’s face and then in the fear of betrayal
after a close attachment to a prisoner who may later turn
out to be an informer, which Kemal experienced. Finally a
legendary anecdote brings Nazim Hikmet, a memoir that
exemplies how much the poet loves sharing anything with his
fellow men. Until the arrival of Nazim Hikmet, Orhan Kemal’s
memoir narrative says nothing of himself, totally devoid of
of Piraye, one of Hikmet’s wives, is present in the memoirs
too. The women Nazim fell in love and/or married are Nüzhet,
Lena (Ludmilla Yurchenko), Piraye, Münevver (he had a son,
Mehmet from her), Galina G. Koleshnikova (his doctor and
lover, and the woman the poet wrote no poems for), and
finally Vera, whom he stayed married till his death. Nazim
is known to have had affairs with the soprano Semiha Berksoy
and writer Suat Dervish. When Nazim was in Bursa jail, his
wife was Piraye, and in Kemal’s memory she is not a smiling
face, but we know that the women Hikmet fell in love with
were always like water and wind for his imagination. Their
love was indispensible, the presence of a woman he loved was
a must for him to continue writing his poetry, unlike Kafka.
Hikmet wrote “Paris without you” nobody could understand
that it was written for Vera, but later Nazim made clear he
had fallen for Vera, while he was still with Galina, with
whom Nazim Hikmet lived for eight years. Seeing that the
great poet can hardly produce poetry without love, Galina
decided give way to this new woman, Vera, who in 1960 became
his ‘assigned’ wife. This anecdote can not be in Kemal’s
memoirs of course, but I could not help putting it in here
because Galina’s “getting off Nazim’s creative way” has
always impressed me as a real sacrifice of one’s self and a
sign of true love. And isn’t that another kind of exile for
the woman in love?
poet who devoted a life to his language and poetry is Edip
Cansever, a member of the Second New movement in Turkish
poetry. He is known to be one of the many Turkish poets who
is difficult to read and understand, a symbolic and
surrealistic poet of ideas, always full of the love of his
language and people.
Dirty August is a good example. That is why I felt
the need to translate the title poem of a Cansever book of
poetry with all its complexity in thought hiding behind the
simple language. The translator, while inevitably betraying
the poet or the poem, must do his/her best especially with
the style of the poem. The voice in the poem is talking to
August, as if it were some filtly body to be damned or a
dirty child deserving to be reprimanded.
August,” the title poem, has always reminded me of an
American poem that keeps coming up in my life: “Snowman” by
Wallace Stevens. It is as if Cansever is trying to prove
that he is not ‘snow-minded’ or that he can see ‘the
nothing’ behind the conspicuous world of objects, the world
of loneliness, if not solitude. Yet again, in Stevens’s
terms, he belongs to a world of ‘oneness’, which means an
irredeemable and inescapable exile for poets. This state of
exile is a must, a prerequisite for seers or poets who have
an insight for what’s beyond the visible world: a state of
the exile of the soul inwards while the body might be on
exile in another country.
August” water brings to Cansever’s mind ‘an eagle from
Ardahan’ and ‘a rice grain from Kýzýlcahamam’ among many
other things, which are images of an artist in exile. Water
is omniscient, it is ubiquitous and is like “a glass that
shatters when your home country turns her face away from
you.” He thins his body by scrubbing it to the wall and ends
his poem stating his location or locating his state:
where the water stops for a second
where the water is drowned
when it stops.
These lines also give away the
reason why the poet wrote poems and got them published
incessantly. It is one of the many ways of proving to
oneself that one exists: another example of the “solar joy”
of Camus, of Hemingway or of Pasternak. Therefore, in the
next stanza he takes to the road driving a lorry the load of
which he does not know. However, he is ready to put a
‘kilim’ (Turkish rug) anwhere showing his sense of
belonging. He also confesses in the final separated line
that he prefers this state of the flow of water, rather than
being fixed to one point in time and place: “from days to
water.” This final line shows how the poet’s mind and body
oscillates between reality and illusion. He also wishes to
get away from this world of objects, to some far away land,
where the poet is like water: a wish that proves the belief
that a poet always is/should be on exile. That is why
another important contemporary poet Küçük Ýskender claims
that a poet’s job is to write poems, not books.
Cansever wrote poetry that looked like prose or
prosaic-poetry to exemplify his abstract-concrete theories.
Cansever’s poems take us to almost the same states of mind
and heart of poets like Whitman, Stevens and Plath.
Therefore in the translation of a poem, it is a must to
stick to the obscurity of the imagery in the original poem
because it is this obscurity in the translation that will
act like the wind to the readers’ sails of imagination.
Moreover, poetry-reading is not a matter of trying to
understand it but a gate to a journey with it, a matter of
sharing the poet’s creative exile in his own language.
This was the very reason
why Nazim Hikmet, gave assignments to Orhan Kemal and to
other prisoners who aspired to be poets so that they work on
the form of their poems as carefully as they do with the
content. A painful process for Kemal, at the end of which
Hikmet liked Kemal’s poem most, and not those of the other
inmate-students of his. That’s why Kemal, who is known for
his novels, wrote in joy, with the joy of having deserved
the love and friendship of his master poet: “It was me who
had passed the test.”
This was why Emily
Dickinson once wrote: “Open me carefully.”
It too is the hefty absence
of what exists
Here is a day squibbling
The white organ of
shattering: the day is
Like heaps of salt
Nature moves up her thick
The thing, opposite of
Dirty August! The
possession taking me here and there
I remember one or two
Maybe I don’t remember one
or two hotels
It is not the very self of
a hotel anyway
It is the Brown organ of
solitude: a heap of dreams
And it is made up of brown
Nothing else, to see the
You dirty August! I finally
burnt my eyelids too.
Three Poems by Nazim Hikmet (Ran)
Galloping from far Asia
This country that lies in the
Like the head of a mare’s
Wrists in blood, teeth
clamped, feet naked
And this land that resembles a
This hell, this heaven
Let alien doors shut, and
never open again,
Demolish human slavery to
To live! Like a tree, one and
And like a forest in
Nazým, how happy you must be
deep in your heart,
you have said a fine “hello”
so ample and so sure.
The first thursday of the
Put such a full date on your
We live in such a world
that the month, the day and
have so much to say, more than
the thickest book.
Uttering such a wide
such a big “Hello”
and then before finishing what
i have to say
looking at your faces, smiling
-cunning and happy-
winking an eye at you...
We are such excellent friends
we can communicate without
Hello to you all...
THE LITTLE GIRL
I am the one who knocks at the
All the doors one by one.
I cannot be visual to your
The dead cannot be seen.
Since i dead in Hiroshima
Ýt’s been almost a decade.
I am a girl of seven
They do not grop up, these
My hair caught fire first,
Then my eyes were burnt,
I became a handful of ashes,
My ashes scattered in the air.
I want nothing
Nothing for myself.
The child that burns like
Cannot even eat candies.
I knock at your door
Auntie, uncle, put your
Don’t let children be killed
May they eat candies as well.
Poems Translated by
Dr. Yusuf Eradam is
a writer, poet & professor of American culture and
literature at Bahçeþehir University, Istanbul.