Love will conquer

Love will conquer

14 June 2017

By Hande Eagle

©Berge Arabian

On June 30 we will be joined by Karin Karakaşlı, one of Turkey’s most acclaimed poets. She will be reading from her new poetry chapbook, History-Geography, which was translated into English by UK poet Sarah Howe and Turkish translator Canan Maraşlıgil in June 2017. Literature Programme Manager Hande Eagle reached out to Karakaşlı to talk about her life and poetry.

Hande Eagle: What are the challenges of being a poet, writer and journalist in today’s ‘new’ Turkey?

Karin Karakaşlı: By its very nature, literature is oppositional. As a writer and a poet you have to have a will to trace the truth, a discomfort with the status quo in order to sit and write desperately trying to create another world according to your imagination. At the same time literature is a record, a document of the respective countries’, peoples’ history in times where official versions are founded on denial and lies. Searching for the real story, telling what actually has happened is also the basic definition of news-making and journalism.

Taking the recent political circumstances based on pressure, violence, and a lack of justice into consideration, it is not surprising that writers, journalists, opposition politicians, human rights defenders, lawyers and academics face severe difficulties. Trapped between prisons and court rooms, civil society tries to make its voice heard despite the closure of alternative media organs and associations and NGOs.

As long as the truth and peace are seen as threats to ‘national security’, writers, poets, journalists and all opponents will have a tough time.

H.E: What does it mean to be a Turkish-Armenian poet in the Turkish zeitgeist?

K.K: Above all, literature – particularly poetry – is being free of all identities. Literature is a fourth dimension for me where I can really be free, stripped of all my identity etiquettes. However, I am also politically very engaged as a columnist, a writer, a woman and a human being crying out for the simple and fundamental right of living a life while preserving my human dignity. In the case of Turkey, to be a Turkish-Armenian poet means paying debt to our ancestors by yearning for the truth and justice. This is something that is also decisive for the recent times as denial makes new crimes ‘legitimate’.

H.E: Do you think that you become a more prolific writer when the reality around you hits you harder? Does literature thrive in hardship?

K.K: To me, literature is actually free of any imposing powers. It’s so instinctive that you do not know how not to write. It’s inevitable to pour everything on to pages with the sheer hope of coming together with some like-minded souls. At the same time, however, hardships enhance the need to come to terms with the past and the present lies, and any form of manipulation of reality. There is both the urge to tell the truth and to create an imaginative world of your own dreams as a sanctuary.

H.E: You are coming to the UK for a tour with the Poetry Translation Centre for two weeks. One of the talks will be held at Asia House on June 30 when you’ll be joined by translators Canan Maraşlıgil and Sarah Howe for a Turkish and English reading of your poetry. Given that you also studied Translating and Interpretation Studies at Boğaziçi University; do you think your poetry translates well into English?

K.K: Poetry is a minefield for translators, it’s a true challenge. As far as syntactical and semantical rules are concerned poetry is a real anarchist. Thus, the greatest difficulty for translators is to sense this new, unique language of the poem at hand and then, to recreate it in the target language. Canan Maraşlıgil and Sara Howe have done excellent work in this sense, undertaking initiatives to go to the limits whenever necessary, to transmit the local, cultural aura and submit the universal content. I can only be grateful for their efforts.

H.E: Many support the idea that you bring a new voice to contemporary Turkish poetry. Can you tell us a little bit about the common themes of your works, in particular, your poetry?

K.K: I can only hope to really bring something original to Turkish poetry. This is something that will be assessed by the critics and the readers. The essence of my poetry is to give a voice to the least heard; to crystalize details; to display that life is a continuum, that it is an all-encompassing universe regardless of the differences in culture, language and faith; to cherish the never-ending possibilities of it while also depicting scenes that the official narrative overlooks. Women, children, the elderly, LGBTQ+s, minorities, nature, city, ‘insane’, myths, traditional songs, legends, tales all take their part in my literary world. I question and display all forms of power struggle/relations as well as gender roles where men suffer a lot, too. Although there is a focus on inner pain, harsh memories and solitude, there is always a hope and a praise to love as the most powerful political power. To me, loving someone truly is also a political act.

H.E: What, in your opinion, makes a poet a poet?

K.K: Suffering and the intrinsic urge to tell it. I am in love with words and languages. Thus, to create a unique literary language as distinctive as a birth mark is of utmost importance. Writing poetry is not a profession, it is actually an obsession to which you voluntarily and utterly succumb. A blessing when you succeed but a curse when you fail.

H.E: Why do you think poetry is a suffering branch of literature? Is it difficult to get your poetry published in Turkey?

K.K: I really do not understand why it takes extra effort for poetry to reach people. It is actually the closest genre of literature to human beings; it has accompanied people since they dwelled in caves. Poetry is so close to music, it has such a direct power to penetrate the soul. There are times when I cannot read a single line from a novel but there is always a poem standing close by as rescue.

In Turkey too, it is difficult to publish poetry. I am lucky to have Aras Publishing, Turkey’s only Armenian publishing house which provides a great service by publishing translations of Armenian literature and who are also willing to put my poetry on the shelves.

I am convinced that people will always feel the need to seclude themselves in poetry and that poems will be with us from cradle to grave.

H.E: How does it feel to read your own poems in another language?

K.K: It is a miracle. Like a prayer. There is something so familiar and so foreign at the same time. The recreated version in the other language also gives power to the original. I feel stronger and can smile wider.

H.E: You also write children’s books. Do you have any plans to get your children’s books published in English? Do you think they would translate well for Anglophone children?

K.K: Of course, I wish that all my books get published in English. I started off as a short-story writer and I am still deeply bound to this genre too. Translation widens your horizon, puts the ground under your feet. As for children’s literature… Writing for children is a gift on its own. You learn so many things; economy of words, well-built flow, limitless possibilities for fiction, realistic dialogues, cooperation with editors and graphic designers. My children’s books are the happiest works in my literature and even dreaming of a translation makes me jump for joy!

H.E: What is your vision for the future?

K.K: Times are hard. Sometimes even personal joy feels like a sin amid so much pain. However, just because of all this systematic evil, hope becomes even more essential. Nobody gives hope to you. You have to rely on your inner source to reproduce it as a response to this evil. Nowadays in Turkey, starting the daily routine is a struggle in itself. You have first to check if all your beloved ones are safe and well. Then comes a day of turmoil…You have to watch yourself that you do not fall into depression or lose your mind in a rage. Whatever you do, there should be a tiny particle of resistance against this totalitarian period. And at night you should repeat your name just to ensure that you still remember it.

Then, you smile as you watch a starry sky. In the end, love will conquer as nothing can compete with the intrinsic power of love.

For further information on our upcoming event titled, Carrying Poems Between Languages, please click here. To book tickets to this talk, please click here.