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Two nibs


Murat Nemet-Nejat
in conversation with
Kent Johnson, 2009

Murat Nemet-Nejat

  Murat Nemet-Nejat

Resisting Imperial Appropriations

An Interview with Murat Nemet-Nejat:

EDA, Turkish Poetry, and the Vicissitudes of Translation

Murat Nemet-Nejat is the poet of Turkish Voices and Io’s Song. He is also the writer of the essay The Peripheral Space of Photography (Green Integer 2003) and the editor of Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry (Talisman House 2004). He is presently working on the long poem The Structure of Escape, and on the translation of the Turkish poet Seyhan Erozçelik’s complete book of poetry Rosestrikes and Coffee Grinds (Gül ve Telve). In Jacket 34 you can also read Murat Nemet-Nejat’s “A Godless Sufism”: a sampling of poems from «Eda: A Contemporary Anthology of 20th Century Turkish Poetry» edited by Murat Nemet-Nejat, as well as 30 pages of essays on the topic.



Kent Johnson: Murat, you’ve edited — if that is the appropriate word for your relationship to such an unusual book — the largest selection of modern and contemporary Turkish poetry available in English. When EDA came out from Talisman in 2004, it was greeted with some puzzlement in the poetry community. No one seemed quite sure how to take it, and there were some rumors in the air about it, including one that the book was a grand hoax of some kind. And to this day, no one seems quite sure how to take the book, how to classify it… I’ve heard that you made a visit to the University of Maine shortly after its appearance, and some prominent post-avant poets there questioned you about it. As a way of helping us get a handle on the nature of EDA, can you recall that visit for us, some of what was said?


Murat Nemet-Nejat: Soon after EDA had come out, I gave two readings at The University of Maine. After the second, Benjamin Friedlander, his wife Karla, Jennifer Moxley, Steve Evans, Andrew Joron, Devin Johnston, and I went out to dinner. During dinner, after some hesitation, Jennifer, who is charming and was sitting next to me, inquired politely if she could ask me a question. I said sure. She said there was a rumor that I had made the whole anthology and the idea of EDA up. I was stunned and said, of course not. She did not seem convinced. She insisted, “Why then do people believe that you have invented the whole thing?” At that moment I noticed that all the five of them were looking at me and waiting for the answer. Obviously the thought had occurred to all of them, and it was strong and quite wide-spread. I answered that perhaps it was because of the fact that for years I was a defender and partisan of Kent Johnson’s poetry. They were only half mollified. Friedlander, who had invited me to Maine, later told me that, reading EDA, more than anything, he was struck by its “audacity” of not giving any biographical information on any of the writers in the book. Also, it seems, during my reading at Maine, quite often I read the translations without giving the poet’s name, moving from poem to poem. These factors reinforced his sense that EDA had an organic unity and was a creation of my own imagination. [1]

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Of course, there is an element of truth to his and others’ response. As in your case, my translations run the gamut from the almost literal to being meta-poems derived from the originals and, in a few instances, to containing passages, fragments from my earlier poems, particularly from Io’s Song, often stuck in the middle of a poet’s work. But my translations are always attached to actual Turkish poets and, even when divergent, reveal important, often sub-textual truths about their works. In addition, the very concept of EDA, unifying all this poetry, is my creation and not an already existing idea in Turkish criticism. Nevertheless, certain critics, a few of them grudgingly, and many younger Turkish poets have already accepted and embraced my formulation of EDA as “godless Sufism” after I defined it.


In other words, the sense of gossipy scandal which seems to have surrounded EDA at its publication intuitedan element of truth about the book, though a truth more complex than some people thought.


KJ: Fascinating. So this is a kind of massive After Lorca? Did Spicer influence your conception of the project in any way? I know you have thought a lot about Spicer, particularly in relation to Benjamin’s writing on translation…


MNN: The first sentence of my introduction to EDA, “The Idea of a Book,” says, “As much as a collection of translations of poems and essays, this book is a translation of a language.” To treat Turkish as a single poem, of which individual poets and poems, and even essays, are parts, is to treat the Turkish language, in Spicer’s sense, as a serial poem. Benjamin’s “ideal language” of pure intentio, rather than individual modes of intention, is also a serial poem. Benjamin’s concept anticipates both the serial poem and the hypertext.
Though Spicer is possibly the single most important American poet to me, the relationship is indirect, more complicated. I first heard of After Lorca in 1991 after writing Turkish Voices. This poem is initially based on the Second New[2] Turkish poet Cemal Süreya’s first book of poetry, Pigeon English, which he wrote during the 1950’s, in his twenties. In this book, absolutely stunning erotic passages of uncanny psychological insight, where a nexus between pleasure and power is revealed through the lyric persona of a male seducer, are mixed with cute refrains or half-digested surrealist lines which blur the text, sentimentalizing that insight by turning the poems into general appeals for freedom, completely overlooking the victimization of the female persona, who never speaks. I decided to see what would happen to this book, which I loved, if I eliminated all the passages I considered weak from it. In the ensuing experiment, which lasted about a year, fragments from different poems in the book, sometimes ending in mid-sentence, began to be isolated and spliced together; then, a few underwent alterations; then, fragments from other Turkish poets entered the melee, splitting the lyric persona, opening up its unity; finally, poems written by me earlier joined the text. The result is a series of eighty-four fragments where any idea of ownership or originality or source — what poem, that is, comes from whom or where — disappears, is completely blurred. In other words, what starts with the ego and power-centered persona of the male seducer is dissolved, splintered, through a dialectic or critical confrontation with Süreya’s resistant text, into multiple points of view, often of a sufferer, a victim. What one ends up with is a multiplicity of voices, an erotic poem which becomes its own critique of power.


KJ: Jack Spicer is all the fashion now. A special portfolio in Poetry, the new Collected from Wesleyan, a big recent biography, and reviews in the NYT Book Review and everywhere else… So much for the principles he lived by, but he’s dead, and what can he do? Though who knows, maybe this sudden afterlife is his final big admonition to the so-called post-avant. But anyway, your deep engagement with his work goes back a long ways, so please talk a bit more about Spicer and After Lorca, now.


MNN: To me, what is most resonant in After Lorca is Lorca’s disembodied voice, emanating from the grave, from his satyrical, disintegrating body. The translations in the poem are fractured, fragmented, prismatic reflections from that voice, gaining their power from it. Lorca’s voice and the voices in Turkish Voices are, in Spicer’s terms, correspondents. When I finished the poem, I showed it to my close friend Gary Lenhart. He said that, after reading it, he re-read After Lorca, looking at it with a new eye, Spicer’s and my poems expanding and clarifying each other. It was then I first read After Lorca, followed by many of Spicer’s other works.


My relation to Spicer is not that of influence — only rarely did I take something directly from him — but of belonging to the same poetic river, sharing a correspondence, a commonality of purpose. I regard Spicer as the creator of Gnostic poetry and poetics in American literature in the 20th century. I think his calls to Mars or for a language against the grain are attempts to evoke a suppressed, forbidden language. Until the 15th century, Byzantium was the center of Gnostic practice. My EDA of “godless Sufism” is an Eastern version of the same heretical sensibility. The progress of the Turkish poetry in the EDA anthology involves an explosion of suppressed voices, those of gays, of women, of social and ethnic outcasts.


The second Spicer work I read was The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether, particularly its “Homage to Creeley” section. What struck me in that work, more than anything, were the empty spaces on each page. The footnotes did not seem to relate to what was at the top. Suddenly, it dawned on me that the mere juxtaposition of two passages by a poet in whose work one is engaged, ironically reinforced by the tenuousness of the connections, created a space redolent with suppressed speech, with unanswered or even unarticulated questions. In “Homage to Creeley” one has a new relationship between the reader’s eye and the page. About that time, I also read Roland Barthes’s essay ”Loyola,” which ends, I am paraphrasing, with the line, “All I remember of Loyola is his eyes full of tears.” The last step to reach God in Loyola’s Meditations, which is what Barthes’s essay is about, is to envisage a state of two options so much in absolute equilibrium that no logic or reason can lead to choice; but one must take a leap of faith. I saw Loyola’s “absolute equilibrium” and Spicer’s tenuousness in the relation between top and bottom as similar states, both requiring a linguistic/spiritual leap of faith into resistant (“against the grain”), forbidden, suppressed speech/space. This convergence  — Spicer so much at the heart of it — was a poetic epiphany.


KJ: What about your book-essay, The Peripheral Space of Photography (Green Integer, 2004), which has gotten a lot of admiring commentary? Any connection between it and what you speak of above?


MNN: That essay and the poems “The Vocabularies of Space” and Io’s Song, all three of which I wrote in the next five years or so, constitute an exploration of that insight. The photography essay explores the relationship between the eye and words, the viewer of the photograph (Spicer’s reader) confronting photograph’s space (Spicer’s pregnant space), eliciting runic/ critical words out of this meditative confrontation. At the heart of Io’s Song there are a number of visual poems where words are placed on the page in such an equilibrium that the reader must take a leap of faith into its vertiginous space to find a way in it. The poetics of EDA itself has a visual dimension. It delineates a motion, an arabesque of the mind’s eye. It emanates partly from that reading of The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether. As you say, Kent, EDA is not only a “massive After Lorca”; its language/space is full of Spicer’s logos/low ghosts.


KJ: You had mentioned that there was no pre-existing idea for the EDA project in Turkish literature. I do believe, though, that the concept of imitation/appropriation is one that has a long and venerable tradition in the nearby poetries of Arab and Persian cultures. Am I right?


MNN: What you say is true, particularly in the traditions of the Ghazal and the Kaside. It is also true with the Ottoman Turkish poetry[3] which is influenced by and appropriates its Persian and Arabic counterparts. What is very surprising about the 20th century Turkish poetry, and it is something whose crucial importance I had not consciously realized until I began the anthology, is that the poets are dealing with a completely new language which had a strong bardic tradition, but no written literature for four hundred years.[4] In a sense, they do not “know” the language and are trying to master it. That is what makes this poetry so exciting and explosive, utterly sensitive to the social movements in the country.


On the other hand, some Turkish critics, in a reverse version of Orientalism, often attempt to describe this poetry in Western terms, connecting it disadvantageously, for instance, to surrealism or symbolism. I think that is a mistake and obfuscates the utter originality of this poetry. That is why in EDA I am creating a poetics which defines this work in its own terms, resisting imperial appropriations. Of course, appropriation has a creative side — an appropriation which is truthful to the source text in a more profound way — -but that is another line of discussion. I think both you and I, Kent, have thought a lot about this kind of sweet exploitation,” which for instance Papaditsas in the Miseries of Poetry is subjected to, as are a number of poems in my anthology. Discussing translation Benjamin says, “No language can fulfill its intention alone but must join the intentions of other languages supplementing each other in the realm of ‘pure language.’” Supplementing — appropriation of a style or tangential threads of lines — is the portal to Spicer’s logos, as well as to the realms of EDA and The Miseries.


KJ: You mentioned that EDA had made some impact among younger poets and critics in Turkey. Would you please talk some more about this? In particular, I’m curious about the reaction of those contemporary poets included in EDA: How have they reacted to being incorporated into this poetic notion of “godless Sufism”? And one other thing, at the risk of making this question unmanageable: Turkey’s most famous living writer, Orhan Pamuk, has written quite a bit in English on modern Turkish poetry, and his particular take constitutes what is known here for most people. Does he know about EDA?


MNN: The attitude of the poets in the anthology is ambivalent, very fascinating.


k. Iskender [b. 1964], whose souljam is in the anthology, calls himself now “a poet of EDA.” He does not speak English well. When some German poets wanted to translate souljam into German, he referred them to my translation. He later told me that it was then that he realized I had made subtle changes — for example, in the English version skipping a number between two numbered fragments, while in the original there was no numerical gap, or introducing a line or two which were not there, including two short fragments from my own poem Io’s Song. I asked him if he minded it. He laughed, saying “not at all,” that I had made a collage out of hiscanguncem which in some ways expanded it. Nevertheless, his relationship to souljam is double-edged. During his visit to the States in 2004, in a venue in New York where only half of his audience was Turkish, he turned to them telling them that he was not just the poet of souljam, that he had written other poems, and proceeded to read solely from his other poems in Turkish, none of which at that time was translated into English. He did not let me read one line from souljam. Kent, one of those poems he read, “Sacrifice,” which I translated later, is in the vast translation issue you edited for Tony Tost’s online zine, Fascicle, back in 2006. The fact is, in Turkey, many critics consider canguncem/souljam a messy prose piece, only in print because of Iskender’s rock-star reputation. My translation reveals the spiritual nihilistic tour de force, the serial power house that it is. While at his best Iskender is a very radical poet, in his critical hat he still believes his phallic lyrics are his best true work. My focusing on souljam undercuts the autonomy of the male dominant/gay sense he has of himself. EDA introduces an alternative version of 20th century Turkish poetry by revealing the sinuous feminine line, the mental arabesque, which runs through it.[5]


souljam , which is the penultimate poem in the anthology, ends with three fragments, all having to do with women.


post naked lunch

penelope’s explosive reweaving
mystic riffs of absence

my soul is a jelly fish, without a womb
light descends in the gutted out space of the dome.[6]


In print, maybe the best example of the ambivalence toward EDA in Turkey occurred with Ahmet Güntan (b. 1955) whose Romeo and Romeo appears in the anthology. In this poem, Güntan fuses gay and Sufi themes into a spiritual/ erotic dance where two subjectivities move around each other, trying to enter each others’ dream. In an article he wrote three years ago on a young Turkish poet, he refers to “godless Sufism,” saying that he was first angry hearing the term. He believed in God and resented that my term was denying it. Then, he realized that what it said was that as a secret subject spirituality was always of the essence of modern Turkish poetry, and “godless Sufism” made him aware of that. (After Atatürk’s reforms, more than even homosexuality or ethnic diversity, God is the forbidden word in Turkish poetry and society.) EDA shows that as a subversive, Gnostic theme, an erotic spirituality permeates Turkish poetry  — contra the central government’s official, strictly secular, Kemalist[7] line. That is why a relatively young poet like Güntan, who is grappling openly with Sufi themes, finds my concept of EDA so attractive, also why Iskender, despite his antagonistic relation with me, calls himself a poet of EDA. Efe Balikçioglu, a twenty-one year old poet not in the anthology who did collaborative work with Güntan, wrote last year an essay discussing the relevance of EDA for the younger generation of Turkish poets.


KJ: So interesting… OK, but Pamuk. I know you have some differences with him.


MNN: As for Orhan Pamuk, one would think his sensibility would be attuned to EDA. His Black Book, for example, has a multi-layered treatment of Istanbul, which in its fetishistic, iconic, depiction is reminiscent of EDA. But Pamuk does not wish to be “ethnic.” He wants to be universal, whereas EDA focuses on distance, the autonomy of the original, which gives the EDA anthology the form, the elements of a sacrilegious, subversive sacred text. Pamuk is a secular writer. His “universality” is trimmed to appeal to a secular West. The exoticisms of his novels are of a kind easily digestible by secular sensibilities. I do not think Pamuk likes Turkish poetry or reads it a lot or understands EDA. Unfortunately, through a recent essay he wrote for The New York Review of Books, “My Turkish Library,” Pamuk has become a spokesman for Turkish poetry, where he lists the usual suspects, basically Nazim Hikmet, who is already known in the West. He has no true engagement with nor understanding, in my opinion, of the life blood of this poetry. Particularly after his winning The Nobel Prize, people, including poets, do understand Pamuk’s importance in focusing the world’s attention on Turkish literature; but, for reasons I already explained, a good number of Turkish writers do not believe he is one of them. An absolutely amazing expression of this is the often-heard assertion among Turks that Pamuk does not know or write Turkish well, that he sounds better in English than in Turkish. A small or at least silent number of poets and critics, and I am one of them, believe that the achievements of Turkish poetry as poetry are exponentially superior to the achievements of Pamuk’s novels as novels. Meanwhile, Pamuk’s works keep being read; not only in the West, but all over the world.


KJ: There are a number of references to Western literature in EDA. In fact, you place an epigraph from Coleridge at the beginning of the book. That seems an odd way to shadow an anthology of poetry from Turkey.


MNN: During the same conversation at the restaurant, Steve Evans referred to the Coleridge passage at the beginning and said the whole anthology felt to him like a dream, which I think is true, and I took it as a compliment.[8] Two extremes, the objectivity of an anthology and the radical subjectivity of a dream, are yoked together in EDA. This disjunctive synthesis is I think what sacredness in writing is all about, something subjective projected as a radical objectivity. Doesn’t The Miseries of Poetry do a similar thing, violence (passion) and time (its inexorable passage) combined within the confines of a monastic, Gnostic order?


KJ: Yes, Gnosticism in The Miseries of Poetry enters quite literally, as Alexandra Papaditsas, the work’s co-translator, lived most of her life at the Patmos monastery of The Gnostic Order of Greece [Authentic Synod], itself an order with ties to English Romanticism, oddly enough, via the mythologized satyr-figure of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who is painted in fresco, goat legs and all, on the ceiling of the Order’s main temple at Patmos. What other non-Turkish sources are there for EDA?


MNN: Chatting with Friedlander next day on the same subject, I mentioned that when I first read Moby Dick I thought that Melville had “made up” the encyclopedic passages about whaling in the book. Their phantasmagoric intensity suggests subjectivity. Of course, Olson’s Call Me Ishmael starts with Olson trying to “prove” that those passages are "real” by pointing to primary whaling documents of the time. Olson is struggling here, I think, with the same dichotomy.


Olson’s quotes the passage from Melville’s Journals, which describes in erotic terms his first view of the Constantinople harbor while the fog lifts, where his ship had anchored the previous night. The city becomes visible as “one of its Sultanas lifting her ashmack.” This passage, maybe incidental for Olson and quoted by him because he liked it, became a crucial text for me from which my whole idea of EDA as a bridge between Turkish poetry (my mother-tongue poetry) and American poetry first began. There is a kind of truth, I believe, in which a sense of “being made up” (a sense of fraud or forgery) is part of its essence. Moby Dick, The Miseries of Poetry (and indirectly Doubled Flowering, I would say) and the EDA anthology are dealing with that reality. You call it “magma,” I call it Sufism (of a godless, blasphemous spirituality). Moby Dick is a pure Eda work. Doesn’t Ahab project his radical subjectivity onto The Pequod, making his obsession the “law” of that ship of state (Benito Cereno being the precedent of that inversion)? Isn’t Moby Dick our capitalist/anti-capitalist secular/sacred text?


There are other Western references in EDA, but they are relatively peripheral to the main Western canon. For instance, there is the Novalis quote, “If the world becomes a dream, the dream in its turn becomes a world,” which I picked from a Jean-Luc Godard essay on film. There is the Edgar Allan Poe quote from Eureka, used as a caption at the beginning of souljam. The European poet most attuned to EDA, I think, is Stephan Mallarmé. Ahmet Hasim, whose 1921 poem “That Space” opens the anthology, refers to Mallarmé.


Then there is the American architect Louis Kahn to whose Bangladesh Parliament the EDA anthology is dedicated, a building, built by an American, cherished by, defining the identity of an Asian nation. The ambiguity we are discussing does not confine itself to poetry.


KJ: Well, you had brought up Yasusada’s Doubled Flowering, and since I am connected with that work as caretaker, I can’t help but ask you to expand on the affinity you mentioned.


MNN: Well, I had an earlier, indirect and inadvertent connection with Doubled Flowering. When I first translated the Turkish poet Ece Ayhan’s A Blind Cat Black and Orthodoxies around 1983‒5, no one wanted to publish it. On the spur of the moment, in 1997, I sent it to Douglas Messerli who accepted it in less than a week, publishing it the same year. As you know, this is a blinding speed for him. He had only one condition. He wanted to see a photograph of Ece Ayhan or an article about him in a Turkish newspaper or other publication. I was amused and provided it to him. Ayhan wrote the two poems A Blind Cat Black andOrthodoxies in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Later Messerli told me he could not believe that such poetry could have been written at a time and in a country of whose poetry, with the exception of Nazim Hikmet, nobody had heard. Language School poets, as you know, tend to think they are first in everything! Messerli, I think, was reacting to the scandal around the Yasusada texts, which I had not heard of at the time, and wanted to make sure that he did not fall into a similar situation. Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris were preparing their Millennium anthology at the time. I had told them that they should pay attention to the 20th century Turkish poetry. They ignored my suggestion. Messerli convinced them to include Ece Ayhan in it. Later I was told, indirectly, I do not know if it is true, that Ayhan took the place vacated by Yasusada’s poetry in the book.


KJ:That’s amazing, the first I’ve heard of this. The hidden world of poetry politics is so terrifically rich and interesting, isn’t it. And it’s funny how people try to hide it away, when it’s really as much a part of poetry’s body as the strictly textual stuff is. In any case, the dropping of Yasusada from the Millennium anthologies is a very secondary matter: Rothenberg and Joris’s work obviously stands as one of the great poetry achievements of our time.


MNN: I completely agree. Well, actually there is another scandal around my first reading from my poem Io’s Song at the Poetry Project, I think, in 1995. Io’s Song contains visual pieces where words are spread on the page in such a way that they do not permit a rational, “preferred” order of performance. They force the reader (performer) to make choices. My reading was full of false starts, repetitions, stuttering, backward movements, loops around the page, sound echoes, false puns, etc. Before that day, I had given three readings at The Poetry Project, each time after the completion of a relatively long work. The first was after I wrote "Fatima’s Winter,” a political poem about the relationship between miracles and revolution, dealing with “false documents,” ruminations and quotations from a travel guide on Portugal. The second centered around my reading from my translations of Orhan Veli’s poetry. The third consisted entirely of my reading the first forty pages of Turkish Voices. (Hanging Loose Press asked me for the manuscript immediately after the reading, then changed its mind. Board members found the poem, “though brilliant and luminous, too chaotic.") Messerli, for whom TV was my first poem he knew, told me he liked the poem a lot; but never published it).


After the first three readings, I had developed a significant following among the New York poets, known, as one of the intros to my reading described, for the erotic wit and sudden shimmers of language in my poems. After the Io’s Song reading I think I lost about 90% of my following. Years later, I was told by someone who was in that reading that one of the poets in the audience (he would not give his name) said to another that “someone should tell Murat that he has lost his mind.” If David Shapiro was at that reading, he will remember it. Due to the promiscuity of my mind and interests, as a poet I tend to follow any direction which lures me. As a result, I keep losing the readerships I build. Many people admire my work, but only a very few seem able to get their arms around it, at least its totality. That’s why, I think, there are so few reviews of EDA, why, so few publishers, even if they really like my work, dare to pull the trigger and publish it.


KJ: And yet, people talk about it in glowing terms, know about it. For example, to go back to the young poets at Orono — Ben Friedlander and Steve Evans are among the most recognizable critics of the younger generation. They haven’t written about EDA yet, despite the way the book seemed to intrigue them so?


MNN: At the University of Maine reading, Benjamin Friedlander told the audience that not having a book of my poetry published in America[9] is one of the scandals of American poetry. I see my place more as the anti-matter of American poetry. Ideas or poetic modes I develop begin to be talked about or proposed ten or fifteen years later, but no one publicly mentions my name. For instance, the EDA anthology is a mother lode, an embodiment of a poetry of thought, its motions and processes, its space. How many post avant poets, struggling to discover a “philosophical lyric,” see what is there before them, though they ultimately will see it or be affected by it.


In “Questions of Accent,” published in The Exquisite Corpse in 1993, I argued that tradition in American poetry is an illusion. The very same Language School poets, who supposedly are against “hierarchies,” attacked my essay in concert when it came out. Chris Funkhouser, who was a student at University of Albany at the time, told me that a famous poet and translator coordinated his attack letter with others before sending it to The Corpse. Luckily, many others disagreed and wrote their own letters. To this day, some poets will do anything to not acknowledge me as part of the public discourse, even though I used to correspond regularly with a few of them before “Questions of Accent” was published. Here again, one sees my own tendency to cut loose, if I feel it necessary, from my own community connections. The accent essay was a conscious sneak attack on my part against the Language School. Some of its members knew what I was doing and my guess is that they let loose the previously mentioned poet-translator, whose buffoonish letter called me a greenhorn, who was trying to put everyone back “on [my] boat,” daring to attack, through Jabes, heroes of American poetics. That letter helped put the essay on the map.


Ironically, when Ed Foster, Joe Donahue and Leonard Schwartz edited their anti-LS, pro-Duncan-poetics anthology, Primary Trouble, in1996, they excluded me, telling me that Io’s Song was a Language poem. They did not realize that the visual/spiritual space the poem was opening up, language thinning and pressing against its limits and insufficiencies (like the burning holes in the papyrus of The Miseries), was a precursor of EDA and very much in the spirit of Spicer, if not Duncan. Leonard told me years later he had changed his mind before interviewing me for his radio show.


KJ: Ah, rumor and scandal in the poetry world… I readily admit that I, along with 98% of the poetry world, adore it.


MNN: But rumors and scandals have a positive side, as aspects of a poetic community. Let me give you two examples of that also. In the early and mid 1990’s we used to live in a beautiful large house with a garden in Westchester (the northern part of New York City). Every Sunday of the July 4th weekend we used to give a lavish party, including plenty of food and booze and a basketball game. That practice, which lasted a few years, was the annual social event of the New York poetry community (at least of the downtown scene). Regardless of poetic groups or styles, everyone was invited to it and, if they were in the city, came with their families or dates. Here are some random names which I remember: Armand Schwerner, Simon Pettet, Bob Rosenthal, Charles Bernstein, Leonard Schwartz, Bernadette Meyer, Hiro Sato, Eleanor Naueen, Tony Towle, Charles North, David Shapiro, Gary Lenhart, Joel Lewis, etc. etc. Two other friends, Eliot Weinberger and Ron Padgett, could not because they were, I think, in Vermont during summers.


In 1996 we sold the house and moved to Riverdale, Bronx, in the northwestern tip of New York City, where we lived for three years. David Shapiro was our close neighbor. In 1996 and for a few years later, many of the poets who came to the July 4th party attended regularly the Wednesday night readings at The Poetry Project. I had a car. A tradition developed among a few of us. After the reading and perhaps a drink, we would get into my car and I would drive those who lived in the northern part of New York to their homes. David Shapiro, Gary Lenhart, and Charles North were the regulars, though Charles Bernstein, Bruce Andrews and a few others occasionally were part of it. The ride had a tacit agreement. We would all talk honestly and freely about the reading or different poets without what we said ever leaving the car. It was an exhilarating experience. I repeatedly zigzagged from the east side of Manhattan to the west and back to extend the length of the ride. Charles, Gary, and David were the last to leave the car and, as a result, we developed close relationships over the years. Charles North once told me that he was so hyped and high by the conversation that he could not go to sleep for a while after he was home. Ask David, he will remember those rides.


KJ: I’ll remember this ride with you, too, Murat. Thank you very much for these terrifically interesting observations! To me, EDA has been a revelation, and my strong sense is that there is much more conversation about it to come.


[1] EDA anthology has an index at the end naming each specific text, including its place and date of publication, from which the translations in the book are taken. Anyone with a bilingual knowledge of Turkish and English can make his or her comparisons. These comparisons, in fact, may prove to be very fruitful for an understanding of the translation process and its varieties.

[2] The Second New is a central poetic movement in Turkish poetry which started in the mid-1950s with Cemal Süreya’s Pigeon English and Ece Ayhan’s Miss Kinar’s Waters and whose main energy as a movement continued until the publication of Ece Ayhan’s Orthodoxies in 1968.

[3] Ottoman Turkish Poetry: the poetry of the Ottoman court before the establishment of the Turkish Republic by Kemal Atatürk in 1923, which adopts a demotic Turkish. The language of Ottoman poetry is a hybrid of Turkish, Persian and Arabic vocabulary and Persian grammatical structures.

[4] I write in detail about this in the essay “Ahmet Hasim and Yahya Kemal Beyatli: Thoughts on the Origins of Turkish Poetry,” contained in the anthology.

[5] The original use of the word “eda” is in the 17th century bardic love poetry, applying to women. A woman with “eda” is one whose totality of movements have allure. By the beginning of the 20th century, the word “eda” changes gender, so to speak, and begins to mean “attitude, toughness.” EDA is a poetics of alluring motion. In other words, EDA goes back to the original meaning of the word, to its erotic, diffusive totality, undercutting the meaning it developed later.

[6] The final poem in the anthology, “Sir, I want to write Poems with Flowers,” is by a woman poet, Didem Madam.

[7] Kemalist: one following the secular principles of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Modern Turkish Republic.

[8] Orhan Koçak, the primary critic of modern Turkish poetry, over drinks with me, also referred to the anthology as a dream. I had called him to present him with a copy. He said he had already bought a copy, read it and liked it a lot. When I asked how he felt about the exclusion of Edip Cansever, whom I knew was one of Koçak’s favorite poets, he replied that it did not matter, that Cansever’s poetry was already in the book without a single one of his poems being present — except for the caption, “I am in the middle of a garden that looks like 444.” Then he added the opinion that only three or four people in Turkey would understand the anthology. He promised to write an article about it and also organize a panel discussion. Koçak is known for his procrastinations. To this day nothing has happened.

[9] The poem, The Bridge, was published by Martin Brian & O’Keeffe in England in 1977.

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