BLOG Caroline Stockford

NWR Issue r34

Come into the Pomegranate Garden

I first met Haydar Ergülen on the Turkish island of Cunda where we had gathered as twenty-plus translators to work on a novella and on Haydar’s poems. The novella-translators sat upstairs, working singly and we poets occupied the long rectangular room on the ground floor of the elegant Ottoman school. We spent all morning and afternoon shouting, whooping, laughing and protesting, loudly that ‘you can't use that word for nail!’, or proclaiming our Eureka! solutions to the word puzzles that are poem translations. We workshopped our drafts in a large, loud and supportive group until Haydar arrived halfway through the ten-day session, to give his talk.

Then, we gathered in the hot back courtyard, chairs lined up on the mosaic patio, where giant geraniums flared in the shaded corners and an Ottoman water fountain peeked out of opulent vines. I remember one or two cats nonchalantly tick-tock their hips along as they walked through the gathering and past the speakers’ table during the talk, showing no fear or reverence for poetry.

Haydar spoke in his hypnotic and gentle manner, talking of his belief that a poet has alloted words; that poetry, like life, is about cycles and repetition; that it is wiser for a poet to explore the depths of single words and themes, without owning them, and to write ‘concave’ poetry with the confidence to repeatedly expound similar ideas accompanied by the freedom to accept that ‘the more she/he writes poetry, the less she/he comes to know’.

Haydar was the subject of the Cunda International Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature twice: in 2007 and 2013. The workshop was facilitated by Prof Saliha Paker, former head of literary translation at Turkey’s prestigious Boğaziçi University and by poet and lecturer in American culture and literature at Kadir Has University, Mel Kenne. From Haydar’s talks, it became clear that he, as a confirmed socialist, has a loose and respectful but powerful relationship to words. His puts out his hand, as it were, and invites words to land, like small birds, and to take part in his poems rather than pinning them hard to the page in a determined and dictated way. Even though the little birds that visit his poems become familiar with him over the years, he respects that they are still wild things that need their freedom; that need to fly in order to retain the freedom of their meaning. Which reminds me of Gwyneth Lewis once telling me in my NWR interview in issue 103 that one had to sometimes ‘stalk a poem, like going after a deer in the wood. Don’t frighten it away.’

To translate Haydar Ergülen is to serve an apprenticeship to poetry. To spend time meditating upon each line; to try to find as light a way to carry the meaning over into English. Even if he refutes the title of poet by saying, ‘I don’t want to be a “poet”, because then words and I wouldn’t get along’.

This book, Pomegranate Garden, is all the more precious, given that so little of Turkish literature has been translated to English. Turkish literature does not just extend back throughout the Ottoman era, with its Arabic and Persian-tradition inspired divan poetry, it also extends right back to the runic inscriptions of the early Turks of the Yenisey basin in Central Anatolia; the earliest dating from the fifth century.

Haydar's poetry has less in common, for me, with modern Turkish poetry and more in common with the work of his fourteenth-century Eskişehir-region compatriot, the wandering dervish Yunus Emre (contemporary of Dafydd ap Gwilym) whose humble register of language and all-encompassing love for humanity can be summarised in Emre’s quatrain:

Come, let us know one-another
Let’s make the whole thing easier,
Let’s love and be loved,
This world is left to no-one.

The poems Haydar writes can appear at first sight to be simple to read, until one tries to translate them. The translator, as many have said before, is often the closest reader of a poet’s [or any other writer’s] work. As in divan poetry, there are worlds of metaphor behind words like ‘pomegranate’, ‘apple’ and ‘nightingale’. Haydar believes that each poet has her/his ‘alloted words’. He elaborates on his idea of a ‘concave’ attitude to writing poetry, in which a poet revisits their vocabulary and themes throughout their career, and where they can find that, rather than refining their ideas, they can still find themselves lost and learning. I like this idea of setting a formal structure within words that have significance for an individual poet. Poets, which are your words?

Although he was brought up in the Bektashi sufic tradition and has written poetry in the poetic form of ghazels and the dervish form of nefes, he refuses to be labelled. Haydar told me that the designation ‘poet’ was not to be self-styled but to be accorded to one by others. He spends his life in service of words, in a humble pursuit of the art of poetry.

The most difficult translation I worked on was not necessarily Haydar’s most difficult poem. Conversly, it ran beautifully and easily in Turkish. The title and subject, however, was the word kus, which cannot be translated into one word in English, but rather means ‘to go quiet on someone’, ‘to enter into a silence that shows you are dissatisfied with them’. The late Selhan Endres and I struggled together during the evenings around the quiet pool under the shade of a large fig tree at the hotel we stayed at during the Cunda workshop. We struck upon a formulation of words that approached and explained but did not fully carry over or represent entirely the atmosphere and depth of feeling in the poem. We got away with it. But, there are some poems that the translator might stay away from. It is not the translator’s perogative to translate them all. Some poems refuse to be pinned down; they will not be caught.

I agree with Haydar when he says that the more he writes, the less he understands poetry. And I agree that poems are hard to translate. First, one must rely on there having been a successful translation from wherever poems abide before they enter the poet’s head and into thought, into words, onto paper. Once the poem is set down, we as translators are tasked with reading it, understanding it, loving or hating it and doing our best to carry over its huy, its personal atmosphere into another language; another culture. Translation is the greatest test of a poem and poems are the greatest test of a translator.

Haydar is a poet because he frees the word; allows it to accompany him on his journey. Haydar writes about the abdal, the wandering dervish who would walk around rural Anatolia teaching the people and sharing poetry, accompanied by folk music on the saz or middle eastern lute.

Elsewhere, he has written:

The desert of poetry is teeming with dervishes, the valleys with shamans, the soul is wrapped in a fog! In the fire, in the wind, / in the cold, the poet seeks for truth, who knows where the heart is? …seeking for profundity in shallow waters, that’s what the poets are doing / floating in the royal barge on other people’s waters / they still desire to be seen / not as the oarsmen but the dervish. Nowadays, being a poet means being visible. The poets have become visible.

Haydar was here this autumn in England and Wales for the launch of his first book of poetry translated to English, to read his work and to share his thoughts with us. I, for one, am grateful that Haydar is a visible poet, that we have the chance to translate, to meet and to hear the abdal, the dervish, going slowly along his way. We, as his thirteen translators and three editors are extremely grateful to Parthian Books for bringing alive in print this beautiful collection, selected from Haydar’s twelve books of poetry.

The poems in Pomegranate Garden have been translated by Mel Kenne, Saliha Paker, Caroline Stockford, Arzu Akbatur, Gökçenur Ç, Nilgün Dungan, Arzu Eker Roditakis, Clifford Endres, İdil Karacadağ, Elizabeth Pallitto, Selhan Savcıgil Endres, İpek Seyalıoğlu, and Şehnaz Tahir Gürçağlar. The selection was edited by Mel Kenne, Saliha Paker and Caroline Stockford.

Haydar Ergülen was born in Eskişehir, Turkey, in 1956. His first poems and short stories were published in 1972 in the Eskişehir magazine Deneme (Essay). Ergülen’s first book of poetry, Karşılığını Bulamamış Sorular (Questions Without Response), came out in 1981. From 1998 to 2007 Ergülen wrote the column ‘Open Letters’ for the left-wing daily, Radikal and contributed to the daily BirGün. From 2010 to 2012 he wrote regularly for Cumhuriyet newspaper. Ergülen is now serving as Director of the Izmir International Poetry Festival, the Eskişehir Tepebaşı International Poetry Festival, and the Nazım Hikmet International Poetry Event, organised by Ataşehir Municipality in Istanbul. He attends poetry festivals and translation workshops throughout Europe and leads creative writing workshops in Istanbul. For the last seven years Ergülen has taught Contemporary Poetry at Boğaziçi University, lectured on poetry at Kadir Has and Bahçeşehir universities, and given public lectures each month in Eskişehir.

Caroline Stockford is a writer, poet and Turkish translator from Abermawddach. She has an MA in the History of the Turkish Language from SOAS, London University and works for Norwegian PEN as their Turkey Adviser. She monitors the trials of journalists in Turkey and advocates for freedom of expression. She is a member of the board of Wales PEN Cymru and Chair of the Search Committee of PEN International.

Pomegranate Garden, a Selection of Poems by Haydar Ergülen is available from Parthian at £9.99.] Support independent, small and Welsh publishers this Christmas!


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