Island Poems, 47

Island Poems, 47

This poem is part of our world poetry special issue, with the focus on Turkey, curated by Ceyda Elgül, an instructor of translation at Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies in Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University 

Editor’s Note: “No man is an island entire of itself/every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...” wrote John Donne, whose death anniversary falls on March 31. However, amid the shared threat of a global pandemic, as we practise social distancing and seek refuge in the self, we may see ourselves as islands unto ourselves, rafting along the sea of life. As reports of people dying of coronavirus around the world come in, all of us at The Punch Magazine feel diminished as we are “involved in mankind”.  

COVID-19 destroys lives, but as human race, we have always created what is greater than us — literature. It’s a dark and difficult period in the march of human civilisation. But this is also the time that will produce the best of literature. “What one writer can make in the solitude of one room is something no power can easily destroy,” Salman Rushdie once said. Poets and writers throughout history have always shaped the world, and stopped it from “going to sleep”. Someday, when all this is over, the world may not be the same, and we may have lost millions of our loved ones to the contagion, but, by then, poets and writers who are witness to this moment in history will have created life-affirming literature that will outlive us. We do hope that this phase proves to be just a “short sleep” and that we may soon “wake eternally” and emerge into the light — stronger and well-healed.   

This poem is part of our world poetry special issue, with a focus on Turkey, curated by Ceyda Elgül, an instructor of translation at Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies (DTIS), Boğaziçi University in Bebek (Istanbul). It presents a selection of poems translated during a workshop in Turkey last year. 

Curator’s Note: Poetry is generally associated with untranslatability. Poets are assumed to deconstruct and refashion the language, which eventually puts it in a state that cannot be replicated in another language. This portrayal would seemingly suggest that poems are “islands” that have no contact with “other shores”. 

In July 2019, a group of professional poets, translators, and scholars from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds gathered at Büyükada, the largest of the nine “Princes’ Islands” in the Sea of Marmara, near Istanbul, to start a series of poetry translation workshops entitled “Island in Translation”. The gathering aimed to celebrate poetry translation as collaborative-creative production. A selection of island poets and/or poems with island themes was translated. The poets and the poems came from the Princes’ Islands (Istanbul), Cyprus, the Caribbean, and the Isle of Man. During the two-day workshop, the gathering delved into island literature from the viewpoint of translation and proposed corresponding images for island-poems in other languages, including English, Turkish, Korean, Kurdish, and Japanese. Metaphorically speaking, the group explored how “island-poems” and “other-shores” could be brought together. 

Besides this poem by Turkish writer-stage director-theatre critic Melisa Gürpınar (translated by Ceyda Elgül), other translations include poems by late Caribbean poet, playwright and theatre director Derek Walcott (translated by Özlem Berk Albachten); Turkish poet-essayist-novelist Enis Batur (translated by Saliha Paker); Sait Faik Abasıyanık, one of the major short story writers in Turkish literature in the 20th century (translated by Şehnaz Tahir Gürçağlar and İldar Gün Gürçağlar); Isle of Man-based English teacher Usha Kishore (translated by Seyhan Bozkurt Jobanputra and Rakesh Jobanputra); Özdemir Asaf, an eminent figure of contemporary Turkish Literature (translated by Seyhan Bozkurt Jobanputra and Rakesh Jobanputra); American poet Mel Kenne (translated by Mark David Wyers, İdil Karacadağ and Gökçenur Ç.), another Turkish poet Haydar Ergülen (translated by Mark David Wyers and İdil Karacadağ); Turkish poet-actor-visual artist Erkut Tokman (translated by Mark David Wyers and Ceyda Elgül); Turkish-Cypriot poet Mehmet Yaşın (translated by Bilal Çelik and Başak Ergil); Turkish poet Muzaffer Tayyip Uslu  (translated by Muazzez Uslu); and Turkish poets Efe Duyan, Nihat Özdal and Çağla Meknuze (translated by Gökçenur Ç.). In respect of the long tradition of poetry translation, the translations are presented along with the source poems so as to enable parallel reading.

Island Poems, 47 

Following a long storm,
I was left
on a shore
by the waves,
then I realized 
neither the word island 
nor songs
can describe
Luckily, in the end
I got used to myself.
Also, the village fool,
wandering the shadows,
would knock on my door
every now and then
along with the shy winter sun.
We’d say nothing
to one another.
After a sip of poppy juice 
they would walk out swaying
towards the unknown.
I was to wait
like an extinct volcano.
Hoping for a wedding,
a grape harvest,
and a silent death,
I would scratch tally marks onto rocks 
day in and day out
And whenever I wanted to
wash the earth
with the voice building up inside me,
a black eagle
rustling his wings
would circle above me.
While the three witches 
slipped through the king’s gate
and stole the light away,
how hard it was
to grasp time
upon the ruin stairs.

Melisa Gürpınar, Ada Şiirleri, İstanbul: Can Yayınları, 2003

Ada Şiirleri, 47

Uzun bir fırtınanın
bir kıyıya bıraktığında 
beni dalgalar,
hemen anlamıştım
yalnızlığın anlatımında
yetersiz kaldığını bir ada sözcüğünün,
en az şarkılardaki kadar.

Neyse ki sonraları
alıştım kendime. 
Kuytularda dolaşan
köyün delisi de
çalardı kapımı ara sıra
utangaç kış güneşiyle birlikte.
Hiçbir şey anlatmazdık
Birkaç yudum gelincik şurubu
için giderlerdi,
bilinmedik adreslere doğru
sallana sallana ikisi de.

geride kalanı,
sönmüş bir yanardağ gibi
susarak beklemekti artık.
Bir düğün,
bir bağbozumu şenliği
ve sessiz bir ölüm için,
çizgiler çekerdim her gün.

Ve içimde biriken sesle,
yıkamak istediğimde
kara bir kartal
kanatlarını hışırdatarak
dolaşırdı tepemde.
Kral kapısından süzülen
üç büyücü
çalıp götürürken ışığı,
nasıl da zorlaşırdı
zamanı kavramak,
bir ören yerinin

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