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Brave New Poetry

A Brave New Quest
Edited and translated by Talat S Halman
Associate Editor: Jayne L Warner

Syracuse University press

As Turkey’s novelists gain wider recognition in the West, its poets are beginning to worry. For centuries theirs has been the pre-eminent art. But, because they are difficult to translate, they do not get the recognition they deserve abroad.

Talat Halman’s new collection aims to correct that oversight. It is not so much an anthology as a sampling: a hundred poems by forty-four poets born between 1901 and 1958. Though he assures us that “no major poet who gained stature since the 1920s has been omitted”, there are quite a few strange holes in the tapestry. The closer we get to the present, the larger and more numerous they become. For though he claims that “decades of soul-searching” and “a feverish search for fresh modes of expression” have now resulted in a “brave new synthesis”, he sees no need to include any poet under the age of 48.

Perhaps his mind is on the larger picture. This is always a difficult thing to convey to the neophyte reader, but he does so in less than three pages, and with his usual grace, describing the twin traditions of the Ottoman age – divan and folk poetry – in one paragraph, and the restless inventiveness of twentieth-century poets in two. There is no time to put any of them in context, or to convey the sharp curves through which poetry travelled as the bold modernism of Nazım Hikmet gave way to the Garip (Strange) School of Orhan Veli Kanık, Oktay Rifat and Melih Cevdet Anday, only to reassert itself as a major influence on Edip Cansever, Cemal Sureya, Ece Ayhan, and several other Second Wave poets included here.

The poems are left to speak for themselves. Because the poets’ names come at the end of each poem, and because all poems have the same translator, there is a curious, though rather pleasant, consistency of mood. Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar the romantic nationalist flows into Nazım Hikmet the romantic communist. Fazıl Hüsnü Daglarca the seer flows into Orhan Veli Kanık the urbane minimalist. Though the shadow of politics is sometimes evident, it is never allowed to dominate. This, too, is deliberate. Halman wants the music to send us into a reverie, and when he chooses his poets and poems well, it does. But it is difficult to appreciate their breadth or originality in isolation. I hope that Halman’s next collection gives us the wherewithal to appreciate them more deeply.

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 36
  • Heaven on a Plate

    This modern Turkish favourite is a descendant of şeker gurabiye, the biscuit served at 16th-century Ottoman feasts

  • Divine Restoration

    By the mid-1990s the Zeyrek Camii was in a state of alarming decrepitude. Now that the Byzantine masterpiece has been rescued, what lessons have been learnt? For Robert Ousterhout, who was closely involved in the restoration, the old ways are always the best. Photographs by Jürgen Frank

  • New Light on Old Glories at the V&A

    For three years, the main Islamic Middle East gallery at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum was closed. It reopened in 2006 with spectacular effect. Here we present some key aspects of a stunning permanent collection that can now be seen, literally, in an entirely new light. Commentary by its curator, Tim Stanley. Gallery photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • Crimea

    The Crimean War of 1853–56 which ended 150 years ago this year [2006] now seems very remote. Why were Great Britain and France, in alliance with Ottoman Turkey, fighting Russia in the Black Sea? Norman Stone investigates the causes and reviews an exhibition of Crimean War memorabilia at the Sadberk Hanim Museum.

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Issue 36, 2006 A Beauty on the Bosphorus
£12.00 / $15.33 / 495.16 TL
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