Image credit: Normal Gergely, "Space Administration #26" : mixed media

Artist Bio
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OLD SENSITIVITIES

 

Oh, to place a rain beside morning

A rain now onto your sad neck

 

We were the sounds the rivers heard

 

Through us ran waters

Through us silences, daydreams

 

We saw our pain was a curtain

So we drew it shut

 

May I now pause to touch a loneliness

May that loneliness match the rain

 

May we flow to the edge of time, flow

There’s a hill, a nihil

May we climb it

 

– They placed old sensitivities before me

    I took it for birds

 

 

STONE COURTYARD

 

It was just a while ago

I cooled the stone courtyard

 

I was a mere house interior

Dust on a table

 

Somehow this world found comfort in me

 

It was autumn

I was water without shade

 

Would you be cold if I opened the windows

Or words a crack more

 

Your sweat got on something

It’ll leave a stain, I know

 

I know crying leaves a stain

 

You were a word

Falling off my finger

 

I remain the scissor mark

on that paper

 

 

MULBERRY ORCHARD

 

Come toward the mulberry orchard

Away from the houses

 

I will teach you how to keep silent

The worry of branches, too

 

I will kiss you where you diminish

where nature diminishes

 

Go past the meadow

Toward the mulberry orchard

Into the grasses

 

I will make you hear the storm

Teshub’s cry

 

After long I will again await

You behind the water

 

Go past the field

Come further still, further

To the smell of mulberries

 

I will show you the ants

 

 

* Teshub is the Hittite storm god

 

 

IT WAS YOUR MOUTH

 

It was your mouth

Bare wall, private gate

 

It was your mouth

That delivered unborn verse

 

Grasses shifted spontaneously to a new climate

I saw: your mouth, a leafy bitterness

 

It was your mouth

Like toppled walnut trees

 

It gathered all sound and left

 

It was your mouth

My stray child, my deficient sky

 

It was your mouth

And we were children still as we made love

(between two games)

 

 

FLOW

 

I’m what spills from a river to you

Dirty me

 

Throw me into the night

The enabling night

 

The crackle in me

fell

 

I once thought the world would not turn again

The world did turn again

 

That juniper smell

lingered

 

If one forgets

the other doesn’t

 

I’m what flows from water to you

Muddy me

 

Make me resemble guilt

Remember me so

 

 

HALLUCINATION

 

My beloved would watch birds but for fear of falling

An eastern wind will blow on my flesh, endlessly

As for me, I will spring forth from a tree, all green

Green like this from head to toe

From head to toe suspicion and spite

 

Remember, my beloved will say

My hands, my hard and heavy hands

He will become an intoxicated leaf while quivering

Quivering I will hear the sound of nakedness

I will hear it and the seed’s pangs will split

 

My beloved will rain on me like a dirty prayer

Just rain, ready to disintegrate and be annihilated

The soil’s secret will engulf us

Always a wetness left behind

 

A seagull will fall softly

From the sky’s branch

 

 

SOMETIMES… A…

 

Sometimes the windows go and return

Unseen by us

 

A staircase winds around a loneliness

Unknown to us

 

Walls keep the house’s secret

The house, a woman they say, waits in silence

 

Words cease between light and shadow

 

You become a threshold to doors

                     between august and september

 

Doors are made for a wall

As I for a street’s murmur

 

See, I covered the sky

The armchair stands as if awaiting you

 

Your slippers, two collapsed curves in the hallway



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ESKİ ALINGANLIK

 

Bir yağmuru koymak var sabahın yanına

Bir yağmuru şimdi üzgün boynuna

 

Nehirlerin dinlediği seslerdik

 

İçimizden sular geçti

İçimizden sessizlikler, dalgınlıklar

 

Baktık acımız bir perde

Kapattık

 

Şimdi durup dokunsam bir yalnızlığa

O yalnızlık o yağmura uysa

 

Aksak zamanın ucuna aksak

Bir yokuş var, bir yok oluş

Tırmansak

 

– Onlar eski bir alınganlığı koydular önüme

   Ben kuşları anladım bundan

 

 

TAŞLIK

 

Biraz önceydi

Serinlik verdim taşlığa

 

Ev içleri kadardım

Tozdum bir masada

 

Nedense bu dünyaya iyi gelirdim

 

Güzdü

Gölgesiz bir suydum

 

Pencereleri açsam üşür müydünüz

Biraz daha aralasam sözcükleri

 

Bir yerlere terin bulaştı

Lekesi kalır bilirim

 

Bilirim lekesi kalır ağlamanın

 

Bir sözdün

Parmağımdan düştün

 

Ben, o kâğıttaki

Makas iziyim hâlâ

 

 

DUTLUK

 

Dutluğa doğru gel

Evlerin uzağına

 

Sana susmayı öğreteceğim

Dalların kaygısını da

 

Azaldığın yerden öpeceğim

Azaldığı yerden doğanın

 

Ovayı geç

Dutluğa doğru gel

Arasına otların

 

Sana fırtınayı dinleteceğim

Theşub’un çığlığını

 

Bir suyun ardında seni

Neden sonra yine bekleyeceğim

 

Tarlayı geç

Daha gel daha

Dut kokusuna

 

Sana karıncaları göstereceğim

 

 

 

 

 

AĞZINDI

 

Ağzındı

Çıplak duvar, mahrem kapı

 

Ağzındı

Doğmamış dizeler getirip bıraktı

 

İklim değiştirdi otlar kendiliğinden

Gördüm ağzın yaprak kırgınlığı

 

Ağzındı

Yıkılan ceviz ağaçları gibi

 

Tüm sesleri toplayıp gitti

 

Ağzındı

Sokak çocuğum, eksik göğüm

 

Ağzındı

Ve çocuktuk hâlâ sevişirken

(iki oyun arası)

 

 

AKIŞ

 

Ben bir ırmaktan dökülenim sana

Beni kirlet

 

Geceye at

Olduran geceye

 

Çıt sesi içimin

Düştü

 

Dünya bir daha dönmez sanırdım

Dünya bir daha döndü

 

O ardıç kokusu

Kaldı

 

Biri unutsa

Biri unutmaz

 

Ben bir sudan akanım sana

Beni bulandır

 

Suça benzet

Öyle anımsa

 

 

SANRI

 

Sevgilim kuşlara bakacak düşmekten korkmasa

Doğulu bir rüzgârı esecek etimde, sonsuz

Bense bir ağaçtan çıkıp geleceğim böyle yeşil

Böyle baştan aşağı yeşil

Baştan aşağı kin ve kuşku

 

Sevgilim anımsa diyecek

Ellerimi, zor ve ağır ellerimi

Esrik bir yaprak olacak titrerken

Titrerken duyacağım çıplaklığın sesini

Duyacağım ve yarılacak tohumun sancısı

 

Sevgilim kirli bir dua gibi yağacak üstüme

Öylece yağacak hazır dağılmaya, yok oluşa

Toprağın gizi bizi içine alacak

Geride hep bir ıslaklık

 

Bir martı usulca düşecek

Göğün dalından

 

 

BAZEN... BİR...

 

Bazen gidip gelir pencereler

Görmeyiz biz

 

Bir yalnızlığı dolaşır gelir bir merdiven

Bilmeyiz

 

Evin sırrını saklar duvar

Ev ki kadındır derler bekler susarak

 

Söz biter aydınlıkla gölge arası

 

Sen kapılara eşik olursun

        ağustosla eylül arası

 

Kapıyı duvara yakıştırmışlar

Beni bir sokağın mırıldanışına

 

Bak, göğü örttüm

Koltuk seni bekler gibi durur

 

Terliklerin iki yıkık eğri sofada

 

Translator Notes

These seven poems, which will form part of a future anthology of 42 poets, are from Gonca Özmen’s second book, Belki Sessiz (Maybe Quiet, 2008). Özmen’s early publishing success and the prizes she received soon thereafter led to this book’s publication by the Yapı Kredi Publications. The numerous essays and interviews on Belki Sessiz, the translations of her poetry into several languages, her international poetry readings, along with her strong persona* furthered Özmen’s reputation both at home and abroad, catapulting her to the status of one of Turkey’s most distinctive and eloquent young voices today. Not surprisingly, both of her books are now in their fifth editions. Özmen has said, “Poetry is a footpath and poets should be stubborn goats.” She clearly has followed her own advice.

 

The poems are terse and deceptively simple, as is typical of Özmen’s output. And therein lies their beauty. Özmen is adept at creating mood, painting vivid scenery, and evoking emotion with the fewest of words. She uses the most unlikely and surreal, but in retrospect logical and realistic, combinations of words—her poems are powerful and convincing. They are replete with abstractions behaving as concrete objects, taking on tangible form (“Oh, to place a rain beside morning,” “May I now pause to touch a loneliness,” “our pain was a curtain”) and vice versa (“your mouth, a leafy bitterness”). People are likened to inanimate objects or plants (“I will spring forth from a tree, all green,” “I was a mere house interior / Dust on a table”), while inanimate objects and plants might behave in personified ways (“We were the sounds the rivers heard,” “worry of branches,” “seed’s pangs,” “windows go and return,” “A staircase winds around a loneliness”).

 

In addition to the usual challenges of translating poetry, associated with wordplay, (multiple) meaning(s), rhyme, rhythm, assonance, alliteration, and character/mood, Turkish-to-English translation presents additional difficulties, owing to significant differences in language structure. Turkish is a null-subject language; that is, sentences can lack an explicit subject (though a subject pronoun is always encoded in the verb conjugation), unlike English, which requires an explicit subject. In Turkish, the third-person singular pronoun “o” can mean he, she, or it. Couple these differences with the greater flexibility** of Turkish word order, and the difficulty of capturing the ambiguities of Turkish verse becomes clear. Other translation challenges stem from Turkish being an agglutinating language—compact words can become longwinded when translated into English. (So, “yakalanabilmeli” in Turkish translates to “(he/she/it) should be able to be caught”). Subtle cultural differences come into play as well, making translations like “alınganlık” (in the first poem) rather awkward. My*** eventual choice of “sensitivities” for “alınganlık” over such alternatives as “thin skin”, “touchiness”, and “sensibilities” required careful consideration, informed by aesthetics and frequency of use, among other factors.

 

Aside from these general language-related and cultural hurdles, capturing Özmen’s lucid, laconic style was itself a demanding, but hopefully not impossible, task. At times, she bends grammar in ways that are hard to mimic in English and make translating doubly difficult. For example, she will often omit the verb in the second line of a couplet if it repeats the verb from the first line. This can lead to ambiguities as nouns are not declined in English to indicate case, whereas declension features prominently in Turkish. In such instances, I chose not to fill in the verb (e.g., “Through us silences, daydreams” in the first poem).  Similarly, in other instances where she used unusual wording (“crying leaves a stain”, “I was a mere house interior”), I opted to retain the deliberately peculiar, rather than normalizing, correcting, explaining, or polishing (by not modifying “crying leaves a stain” to “tears leave a stain” or “I was a mere house interior” to “I filled the hallways”).

  

* The first time I saw Gonca, she was on stage at a poetry event in 2013. When it was her turn to talk, she took a large piece of black cardboard and held it in front of her face for a minute or two, sitting in silence all the while. It soon became clear this act was in protest of the violence the police were committing during the then-unfolding Gezi protests.

 

** The following may not be the best example of word order flexibility because there is a shift in meaning, yet it is a striking example nevertheless: in the poem “Donuk An” from Belki Sessiz, Özmen completely inverts the first line, “Susarsın bir ırmak durur bir an”, to derive the last line, “An bir durur, ırmak bir, susarsın”. Miraculously, that last line still has meaning, albeit somewhat altered from that of the first line.

 

*** I say “my”, but at this point, I should like to acknowledge the contribution of my long-time friend, Daniel Scher, who has an impeccable sense of language and who, luckily for me, has kindly edited my translations for many years now.


Buğra Giritlioğlu
Daniel Scher

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