Guest edited by John Casquarelli
We’d like to introduce Beyond the Bosphorus, a new issue on contemporary Turkish literature guest edited by John Casquarelli of Koç University in Istanbul, with Burhan Sönmez’s autobiographical essay “The Names on the Stairs,” first published in the anthology Tell Me Your Name (Bana Adını Söyle) in which writers tell the story of their names (Istanbul, 2014, Yapi Kredi Yayinlari). Following Sönmez are Birhan Keskin’s three haunting poems “Broken Vortex,” “Hydrophore,” and “www.anitsayac.com,” translated by Öykü Tekten, in which Keskin probes the limitations of love in a sexist society, the historical legacy of discrimination and violence against women, and the widespread crime of femicide. Kuzey Topuz’s two poems “The Pregnancy Journal” and “This Is How I Picture My Year With You” subdivide narrative flow into individual components in a poetic response to the phenomena of time, change, transformation, and instability.
Murat Nemet-Nejat’s essay on the cultural value of poetry, “Is Poetry a Job, Is a Poem a Product” analyzes the conditions of production and the perfect inversion of capitalist values in the writing process, while Volkan Hacioğlu’s poems “On Reading Eugene Onegin” and “The Silhouette of a War” reimagine the historical past in images that alternate between immediacy and irretrievability. Eşref Ozan Baygin’s “Psychedelic Poems” pay tribute to Aldous Huxley and Albert Einstein in complex imagery that probes the intoxicating and the hallucinatory.
The focus shifts from poetry back to prose as the issue continues with the opening chapter from İrem Uzunhasanoğlu’s novel Once Upon a Spring, which traces the dreams and unfulfilled longings of two women friends who haven’t seen one another since school days. “A Good Day for the Crows,” an excerpt from Aydin Behnam’s novel The Tree of Wheat, describes two boyhood friends quarrelling over a get-rich-quick scheme which—as soon becomes painfully obvious—is doomed.
Our next poets are the late Nilgün Marmara, whose verse embodies the harsh clarity of Sylvia Plath’s late work, followed by Sevda Akyuz and Caroline Stockford, both of whom are also accomplished translators and have been instrumental in leading the PEN Norway project to free poet İlhan Sami Çomak, Turkey’s longest-serving student prisoner. We’ve featured their own poetry as well as their translations of two of İlhan Sami Çomak’s poems, “It’s for this Reason” and “Birthday — IV —,” followed by Öykü Tekten’s translation of the haunting “I knew it as such,” from Hymns Written by Cats.
We continue “Beyond the Bosphorus” with a poem by Murat Nemet-Nejat titled “Sites of Consecrated Potentials”—a spare thirteen-part work consisting of riffs of thought woven around lines from the Turkish poet Ilhan Berk’s poem “A Book of Things.” In stanzas rich with visual imagery, two poems by Gonca Özmen, “Suppose It Is” and “Div orce / Futile Reminiscence,” explore personal absence, the emotional echoes it leaves behind, and the gradual diminishment of pain as the present rewrites the past, whereas the physical details in Cihan Yurdaün’s poems lend vivid imagery to mythology-laden works that reference Icarus, Narcissus, and Daphne and parse the divide between the mortal and the divine. Seda Suna Uçakan’s three poems, “Travelers of Musk,” “Lament to Blue Hills,” and “Untitled,” seem to look back on the present from an undefined future, transcending time to imagine an interstice between the living and non-living, reality and vision.
In Banu Özyürek’s “Classified Ad for the Folded,” a woman takes out an ad in a local paper to invite anyone who has found themselves mysteriously folded or broken during the night to contact her at her Istanbul address, while Figen Şakacı’s “That’s All” tells the story of a close relationship of a special kind. To conclude our special issue on contemporary Turkish literature, “Beyond the Bosphorus,” we offer Murat Yurdakul’s “Threshold” as a visceral reimagining of the mind split by trauma.