Click the cover to read the notebook
and then, mist fell: a preface
“Every person is made up of a town, and he is solely that town, and nothing else. Whatever season he wants to live in, he lives it in that town, replaces what he subsumes with dreamed up figures, idles around with unlived infatuations, thinks his obsessions passions… The town is neither as beautiful as the village nor as Othered as the city. The town does not change; it does not let one change. It is safe… It has four exits: the first, the road unclear in its destination, the second, the sea unclear in its origin, the third the sky unclear in its reaches, the fourth, the earth unclear in its reasons for arrival. Leaving the town requires courage; it is frightful that there seems no return.
I passed through life, like an internal bleeding. I passed through you as well. The bus did not stop, the ship did not stop, the plane did not stop. My love did not stop by you. I only saw it for a moment from the glass. Then, mist fell. Haze fell. Night fell. The road ended, passengers scattered. The town, too, scattered away.
I walked out of hell. No one stopped me.
Heaven was right there, I did not enter.
I thought of you; I entered my thought. I could not find you there either. It was summer. It was actually May. That is why I forgave you.
Now dream anew, guess at how I died
Did I hang myself, cut, or choke; did I drown in pills or water, or crush down my bones
I won’t tell you even that. ‘Town,’ I will say. ‘An ex-lover,’ I will say. Just that. The rest, I leave to you.
The rest is a town left behind, wet and warm, wet and warm, wet and warm.”
Küçük Iskender, “the last letter”
Küçük İskender’s my dead lover’s poetry notebook (2017) toes the line between nihilism and premonition. A small, compact cluster of poems, the book is imbued with an imminent, accepting sense of death and loss while it delves into marginal narratives and dichotomies so inherently and paradoxically coexisting - life and death, music and silence, land and sea, bodies and souls. Derman İskender Över lost his life only two years after his book was released, and with this in mind every line suddenly becomes heavier in its reality.
The book is organized truly as its name suggests, reading a notebook of a now lost lover, but I have chosen to take on the very first poem in the book, “the dead lover’s shadow” which prefaces this reading of the notebook. It, along with “the last letter” becomes the last words of the lost lover, frames a narrative while (if singled out as I am doing now by not providing the rest of the book) leaving all in the middle open for interpretation and free consideration for the audience. It becomes a shell to cover an unknown, thus able to metamorphose per will of the reader, and me, the translator (and re-writer).
Though I could not focus on both texts due to limitations of space, I wanted to preview “the last letter” above as its emotive tone truly befits a representation of the whole book and the consideration of human as town, island, alone yet together, alive yet on the precipice of entropy at all times.
Küçük İskender has not been translated, almost at all, and choosing an untranslated author comes with a level of freedom I enjoyed.
So in my exploration of his poem, which is quite lengthy, I chose to start with more literal, traditional methods of translation and then evolve the exploration into experimental methods encompassing sound translation, new poetry through stripping the poem, and macaronics.
So throughout this portfolio, I have first presented the original poem followed by its literal translation, and its natural translation. I have chosen to translate these two versions simultaneously to make sure the choices in words and sentence structure matched and diverged at the right places. When considering methods of literal (foreignized) translation versus naturalized translation (hereby to be referred to as such), I chose to follow a few guidelines proposed by Schleiermacher in his essay On the Different Methods of Translation, by Walter Benjamin in his Task of the Translator, and Goethe in his Translations.
Schleiermacher suggests that there are two sides to translating. First, that “the more precisely the translation adheres to the turns and figures of the original, the more foreign it will seem to the reader” (Venuti 53). In comparison to this foreignizing effect, his idea of imitation (surrendering to the irrationality of languages) suggests that one cannot possibly create a perfect replica of a work in another tongue; thus the only recourse is to “contrive a copy… making no pretense to be showing us the spirit of the language…or the foreignness… instead [that the translator should] strive to be for its readers, as far as possible, everything the original provided its original readers; for the sake of preserving the unity of the impression made by the work, its identity is sacrificed” (Venuti 48). Choosing to take on these two sides of the coin he proposes, I followed the turns and figures of the Turkish as closely as possible for the literal translation, while in the second rendition I chose to opt for a closer emotive and holistic representation of the poem, therefore naturalizing the language too to take it farther from the Turkish and closer to the English-native audience.
Similarly, if we turn to Benjamin’s discussion of translation, we see a suggestion of an “echo,” a latent structure which can awaken “the echo of the original” work (Venuti 79). He too then divides up his understanding into two, fidelity and freedom, that for him exist together and must be balanced instead of perceived as opposites. The understanding is that “fidelity in the rendering of individual words can almost never carry over fully the sense they have in the original… and what is meant is bound, in the specific word, to the manner of meaning” (Venuti 81). This concept he calls emotional tone, and between my literal and naturalized translation I wanted to play with this balance of emotiveness. In the first, the fidelity leans closer to the singular word particle, pushing away from the fidelity to holistic meaning. This then creates an almost chopped up emotive experience where the translation creates jumps and gaps in the flow of meaning, while the naturalized translation by leaning into a holistic emotive experience swims closer to the original’s tones, disregarding careful and dedicated word choices. This also falls close to Goethe’s ideas of naturalization in his essay where plain translation “naturalizes formal characteristics of any poetic art and reduces the enthusiasm of poetic art to still water” while parodistic translation “appropriates the foreign idea and represents it as his own” (Venuti 64).
What becomes then a challenge is to consider the original language, and the essentials of that language that require most effort in adaptation. For Turkish, I would consider that the emotive tone and closeness to original intentions of the poem are easier to grasp, while the soundscape of the language, the inherent rhymes and alliterations in the words can easier escape the translator. Considering that firstly, English lacks most sounds of the original language, and secondly that the poetry is heavily free-verse, the only way to replicate a plethora of sound patterns and the poem’s soundscape is to try and recreate it through English’s common sounds for alliteration and rhyme. This I attempted as much as I could in the naturalized version so that the ‘naturalizing’ qualities do not only stem from the effort to capture essence but also a crucial aspect of the form, sound.
After these two primary translations, the portfolio takes on a freer and more playful character. Inspired by my identity as a poet before a translator, as well as my particular interest in collage both in visual and literal works, I chose to take on three variations of the original poem to play with these ideas of collage, shattering and remaking, and macaronics.
“As the glorious summer ends” was created with my ever-initial instinct towards a translated poem: strip it down. Especially with a language like Turkish that can translate as a crowded piece into English and a poem as long and complicated as this one I have chosen, I particularly am interested in seeing what bare bones exist in the poem and what other, different creations can come about by stripping the poem down to a limited vocabulary chosen from the larger pile in the original - in my case I based this off of the naturalized version. And as I handpicked the words I particularly was attracted to and started remaking a new poem, I realized a trend appearing in my selection. Albeit a very biased and personal trend, I tended to focus on words that are visceral or had a decorative, pleasing sound, as well as words that seemed essential to the original poem’s themes and images, such as room, box, birds, dead, embrace… From this selection I wanted to utilize this new creation as a stripping down not only of the poem formally but also thematically, tightening the focus of this new poem to the two themes I felt stuck out to me most in the book - the themes of flight (or freedom), and entrapment. So the poem took on a task to synthesize the larger poem into a focus on these two ideas. After my first draft, I also realized coincidentally a sexual trend that rose among the words, and I wanted to utilize this as an opportunity to play with reversing the poem’s gender and sexual character. Though neither the book nor this specific poem I chose specify a gender, one of the common readings of it is a male writing for a female lover — unsurprising considering the marginalization and ignorance of LGBTQ+ in Turkey, as well as the automatic superficial assumption of male author as male narrator, ergo an expectancy for a heterosexual theme in the addressing of “you” as female. So to reverse this one possible heterosexual reading into a homosexual, female-female scenario I specified my word choices further and wanted to create images and allusions to female sexuality and sex while keeping the poem as abstract as possible.
The next variation, “ailing save gale in a gulf gaze” is not a full poem per se, as it becomes clear from the title’s meaninglessness as well. This poem is less a stand alone creation, but more a required exercise leading to the second variation of translation particularly based on sound, “the gale’s shadow.” Taking inspiration from Jonathan Stalling’s Yingelishi and Chika Sagawa’s work in Mouth: Eats Color, I chose to employ sound transliteration and creative translation for Turkish as I find that it lends itself to really interesting final creations. Thus, “ailing save gale in a gulf gaze” can be considered a poem, if one desires to do so, yet it functions more as a treasury of words once the transliteration is complete so that the coincidentally discovered words through the Turkish being transliterated can then be a guideline to modify the original translation. For the creation of “the gale’s shadow,” this transliteration and the naturalized translation are put side to side, and the different words and patterns that emerge on both versions of the same lines can be interchanged to make up a new poem. The method can seem quite complicated, yet I found it to be particularly interesting in this case as a coincidental nautical theme seemed to come out of the way Turkish sounds translate into words in English. This was a pleasant surprise and opportunity to push this new creation, “the gale’s shadow,” to be a poem much closer to the sea, closer to the theme of freedom than the theme of entrapment.
For the final variation, “huzur, σεπτέμβριος and wine,” I chose to concentrate on macaronics. I find that languages one is native to, advanced at, or beginner at have very different ways of functioning for translation — translation between native or very close to native languages can be quite fluid for the translator’s mind, as is Turkish and English for me; whereas languages-in-progress have a challenge to them while adding a new perspective in thinking about language. Beyond requiring the help of a dictionary or an advanced speaker of the language, translation into a beginner language comes with a lack of fully grasping grammar or structural rules or slight nuances that cannot be understood without advanced or native experience. But — and this is why I find it essential to try this sort of translation — having to think through translation into a beginner language requires the mind to slice the literature into pieces that are manageable, and to conquer them one by one, and this is what I took on with the final variation and the addition of Greek at which I am a beginner. I found that the best way for me to translate was to isolate lines, slice them into chunks to determine which structures or words I was already familiar with and could use in Greek, then divide the rest of the poem between Turkish and English. Another key point in choosing which part gets which language of the three was Anne Carson’s idea of “untranslatables” in Nay Rather. Carson describes this as “a word that goes silent in transit,” because the language to be translated into has different sounds, and “it falls silent” in trying to find an exact replica. This is a “measure of foreignness, an acknowledgment,” but this truly becomes interesting when “within this silence, [one discovers] a deeper one - a word that does not intend to be translatable. A word that stops itself… [and there is] the place where knowledge is hidden,” among its letters (Carson). This is what I see in a word like huzur. If there is a structure or word that intends to be said in Turkish, it will be kept in Turkish while Greek’s structure sometimes lends itself to well-designed words or grammar patterns which I choose to add into the work. Pulling these three languages together braids the poem in a way that is quite formally and musically interesting to read, as well as breaking a hierarchy. The question of ‘why do we translate into English’ is an important one here, and the reason should not be because the poem in its original language struggles to reach a universal stage, or is less deserving of attention by itself. By limiting the level of understanding an only-English-speaking reader has, macaronics opens the path to an equality between languages and encourages self-investigation from the reader if they so desire to find the full meaning of the work.
In its entirety, “and then, mist fell” tries to complicate how we read a translation - do we skip the original language displayed on the side of the page, or do we take the time, even if we are so far removed from it? Do we take the language for granted, or do we read between the lines for its tricks and secrets? If, as İskender writes, our town is all we are, do we become othered, do we sit without change, or take one of the unclear exits? And when mist falls, or if the mist has always been there between languages, between people, do we at least try to dispel it? When you read “and then, mist fell” as a whole, reference poems against one another if you’d like. Find the intricacies of change between them, see where the house becomes a ship, or a coffin, and stays a house just the same. Find where life becomes death, the sea becomes the sensual, where fingers become wings, and people become towns.