Interview im THE POET Magazin, England
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Thank you for taking time out to chat to THE POET Safiye. People migrate along with their stories and, with the migration of workers from Turkey to Germany, people experienced a great ‘break’ from their culture and victimization’ Like the first generation of migrant workers, there are also a generation of writers in migration literature. What kind of problems do immigrant writers in Germany face today, and with what tools and methods do they use to try to overcome them?
The first generation wrote in Turkish — and still do — of course; no one can expect them to write in German. As far as I know, from the first generation, only Yüksel Pazarkaya writes bilingual, and does it with great mastery; he is an incredibly successful, talented and beautiful writer, and human-being, that I cannot put into words.
However, I cannot call my writings ‘immigrant literature’. I have not migrated from one place to another. However, I know very well what immigration is but we, as writers, do not want to be stuck in the category of immigrant literature; our writings are literary works that colour the whole world of literature; we fight against stereotypes and victimization and, of course, racism. So what should we do? We must not give up; we must believe in ourselves. Our work is professional after it is good — which I want to believe – and it will be permanent. By thinking the opposite, a person’s confidence and endurance are easily broken, and we must not let anyone break our voices.
The generation of writers today who can speak German — as well as the descendants of the first migrant workers — experienced identity and belonging problems, how did, and does this reflect on migration literature?
It would be completely wrong to call us immigrant writers, because we are not immigrants. No one can claim that. But yes, we are of an immigrant background, but we are dealing with different subjects and in this sense, what we write also matters. For example, are we writing a children’s book, a detective novel or poetry? If we process the subjects we live, and know, we will produce good works. But the problem is this: no one has the right to impose on us which subject we will cover, but this is how the German literary world feels. Let’s say the third generation writes a general poetry book; It is almost impossible to impose this on the German literary world. However, if a poet writes a poetry book specifically about immigration, it is not impossible that it will be accepted, published and maybe even awarded. My battle begins here: I don’t want to be accepted just because I’m dealing with immigration, but we should be accepted as poets and writers and have the freedom to write about any subject. And no one has the right to take that freedom away from us.
We never drank Nanatea together
and on the whole
we didn’t dance enough.
We never went cycling together
on the whole, I didn’t pinch
your nose enough
to hear what you sounded like when you talked.
We didn’t kiss each other enough
on the streets.
But when is kissing ever enough
when you love each other?
I haven’t smoked since last year
I’ve been vegetarian for many years
and don’t eat eggs.
I have survived a pandemic without you
catastrophic natural disasters
and racist terror attacks
I have survived you without you
and nevertheless have stayed sane.
In the summer, I paint my nails merry-red
in autumn blue-black.
Many things stay the same with people
I still love to laugh loudly.
I overflow with love
for everything that carries life inside it
that carries no life inside it.
And I want to sow love
wherever I tread
wherever I’ll never go.
I’d take the whole world in my arms
and always want to keep
life from harm.
Next to nothing of this succeeds.
We never drank Nanatea together
and I know
we’ll never make it up now.
If we start from the fact that literature feeds on the language it is produced and lives with it, the fact that the language has changed into German in the literary works of this generation is an indication that they have adopted Germany. Turkish, which remained only within the home, and German, which surrounded them in social and daily life, brought their culture with them. The concept of ‘intercultural literature’ emerged when this culture that comes with the language is combined with the culture within the home.
I think ‘intercultural literature’ is a very good definition. Literature is not fed only with the language in which it is produced, literature especially nourishes the language in which it is produced. This detail is important. The author makes a great contribution to the language and culture of the country, to the language and culture of that country, and especially to the world of literature. He contributes to all the lands he originates from, and in whichever country he performs his art. Unfortunately, for some reason, people still haven’t noticed this, so they don’t know the value of any of these writers; neither in Turkey nor in Germany.
The language we use will of course be German, otherwise it would be strange; a writer usually writes to reach people. When we live in Germany and write in Turkish, it is almost impossible for us to reach readers. By the way, let me tell you: we are resentful against Turkey. We have great difficulty in accepting ourselves both in Germany and in Turkey. Although it constitutes a great artistic gain for both countries, this is ignored. Every creative person wants to be supported. Support strengthens it, nourishes it, causes it to kill the road; we set out alone and fight our war alone. No one says ‘walk’ behind us, but there are too many obstacles ahead.
POSSIBLY WELL AND TRULY
Perhaps home is a line of Kurt Cobain
a verse of Attilâ Ilhan
a thousand-year old longing, greying hair
the smell of rain on fields
the view from a window, black-and-white
a rutted path with leaves on an autumn day
or Uncle Cemil in his woolly hat laughing.
Perhaps home is that shooting star
from Lloret de Mar
this very millisecond or the Republic of Adygea
is Offenbach city library
Ernst Buchholz inside
or the house key handed
to the exile.
Perhaps home is a deadly serious matter
with a walrus moustache
a stretch of pier run barefoot
the fragility of the poppy
of our childhood
a Callithrix jacchus, a common marmoset
even hides itself in candyfloss.
Perhaps home is a nomad with tukumbut
rests here and there
or a Mickey Mouse shirt and shoelaces
at the Baltic
hair woven into a plait
is a shattered glass on which you step
that unexpected ache in the chest.
Perhaps home is falling into your own bed
after a night out, still wearing jeans and trainers
and holding it there, holding it there.
Is a couple dancing, forgetting themselves in the tango
the sight of two white-brown horses
sometimes Frankfurt Airport Hall B
or simply Fouzia’s voice.
Perhaps home is the square root of eight
or a thing with a trunk and cinnamon on top
is a chameleon blending in.
Perhaps though it’s Mrs. Green
from the ground floor, mithering about everyone
Your work The Rose and the Nightingale is a central motif of millennial Arabic, Persian and Turkish poetry. While the rose is a symbol for the beloved there, the nightingale expresses his longing; your poems are modern and independent love poems that trace things in life and love. With new and surprising metaphors, they sing about love, but also about its failure and loss, in a musical tone whose rhythmic units convey what is being said, creating a very unique, special sound. How did the release of Rose and Nightingale come about? Where does your work stand in your literary adventure?
This beautiful metaphor, which has been used in Arabic, Persian and Ottoman/Turkish poetry and song lyrics dating back to the 11th/12th century, is relatively unknown in German literature. I gave this name to my first book of love poems to adapt and introduce the metaphor to German literature. And the name of the long poem at the end of the book is Rose and Nightingale, which gave my poetry book its name. Poets such as Goethe and Heine used this metaphor in several of their poems at the time, but it never made a place in German literature. That’s why there is a text at the back of the book that was written just for this book at my request. There, the historical story and meaning of Rose and Nightingale is explained with examples of poetry. The successful novelist and philologist Murat Tuncel wrote it for me, and I translated it into German. I am very happy that he gave this valuable article to the readers, and to me. I was amazed that no book under that name had been published in Germany until 2014. I think it’s the perfect name for a book that’s all about love poems.
While you are experiencing the pains of individualization in your poems, we can observe the knotty narrative of good and evil, life and death, with the existential questions you deal with. Is this style of yours also an attitude you show towards life?
Yes, we can say that. I usually write from my own window anyway. In only a very few of my poems do I put myself in the shoes of another person and wrote based on their experiences.
In your poetry, you point to the human devastation that focuses on human tragedies fuelled by social realism. What do you see in the fusion of loneliness and birth?
Man is alone when he is born and when he dies. He is born with some characteristics that he cannot change at birth; ethnicity, origin, gender etc. All of these affect how people will live in the future; and how much he will feel the feeling of loneliness is related to these factors. Being in the minority, not being understood, being exposed to racism etc., pushes people to loneliness. By transforming the original motifs of our culture in our texts, we confront the broken voice of avoidance with the word of courage, our troubles that surround the darkness of gloom like a shudder, with their past and wrongs.
The deep sadness in your poems, death and life, pain, geographies, social healing in terms of the healing power of art has led to look at the world. Considering the political atmosphere, did you feel compelled to do this, or did the feelings flowing through you?
Thank you, you described it very well. I write all my poems the way I feel. In some cases, there is a request for poetry on certain topics. This usually happens for a certain issue of literary magazines or a radio show. Recently, I wrote a poem for Deutschlandfunk, the subject of which was requested to be up-to-date. And then it is up to us to participate or not. I only participate in topics and projects that appeal to me. No one should write out of a sense of responsibility. And anyway, that article would be neither good nor convincing.
LOVE IN LOCKDOWN
You’re in Vienna
and I’m in Offenbach
and we can’t fly to be with one another
or take the train
even the 15-hour drive on the Megabus
the only other possibility
is no longer possible.
Or that I
happily wave at you at Frankfurt central station
or that you
hold me longingly at the airport in Vienna.
The borders are closed
to all lovers, my love
our holding each other forbidden
and we can’t find our way to one another.
Which would be a great pity of course
if we hadn’t already
You’re in Düsseldorf
and I’m in Offenbach
and we can’t visit one another
by car or train
even the trial by Megabus
the longest of all possibilities
is no longer a possibility.
Or that I
run into your arms at the corner of the old school
or that you
await me eagerly at the train station in Düsseldorf.
The borders are closed
to love, my love
our holding each other forbidden
and I can’t find my way to you.
Not because the world these days
has been struck by a pandemic
or the two metre rule.
But simply because
with or without pandemic or lockdown
you don’t want me anymore.
(Translated by Martin Kratz)
In your poems, you deal with toxic social prejudices; the freedoms you can fight for, the subjects you are angry about. How should we read the spirit of your text?
Everyone reads based on their own experiences, and we all interpret the same words differently, on different days and in different years. This is the magic of poetry. You read a book and place it in your library, and that book is untouched, ready to be discovered, as if it were to be read for the first time – but poems, they change and renew where they stand.
What do you think poetry would overcome in the face of the destruction in man? What pains would it relieve?
Usually all, sometimes none. If I can relieve anyone’s pain with my writing, it is a great thing. What could be better than that?
What was it that encouraged you to write from day one?
I was born as a poet. The reason why I came to this world and my qualification is to write poetry. To write, but to write for people, to give them something — for example, a smile, a feeling that I am not alone. I have a reason.
In 2016 you were awarded the Else-Lasker-Schüler poetry prize and the Alfred Müller Felsenburg award for civic courage. How did you feel?
They told me on the phone that I had received the Else-Lasker-Schüler poetry award, and the next time, they asked me whether I would accept it or not. I was very happy with both awards, and since they were the first awards I received, they have a special place for me; they are both very valuable prizes and wings in their own right.
What responsibility did you feel when you reflected on the German poet Michael Starcke’s statement about you; “She will be remembered with the greatest poets of our century”?
I was very happy and emotional. That sentence is part of the literary review he wrote, and when I read that review, my eyes filled with tears. But I didn’t feel any responsibility; that’s the truth. This might be the greatest sentence one can say about a poet, but when people say good or bad things about us, we don’t have to take responsibility for it. Starcke said; “Whether I say this sentence or not, it will be like this anyway.” He said the greatest words about me first. May you rest in the light.
You are a member of the German PEN Centre, the German Writers’ Association and the German Translators’ Association. You translated the poets Günter Grass, Werner Söllner, Else Lasker-Schüler. How would you describe the reflection of your diversity on your translation as a poet and story writer?
Of course, I don’t do the Shiite translations to diversify me, that would be sadistic. But over time, I realized that it broadens one’s horizons. Translating poetry is a very difficult, really difficult job. I am mainly translating from Turkish to German. I was very surprised when I learned that many valuable poets such as Cemal Süreya or Turgut Uyar were not translated into German. It was as if someone had to do this job, and it was up to me. Those precious poets deserved to be translated. They are world poets. By translating them into German, introducing them to the readers on stage with their photographs, resumes and poems, I thanked them for all the beautiful poems they wrote. One should know how to give thanks for every good deed. It’s never too late to say thank you. In addition, those valuable readers in Germany deserve to know Turkish poets, like schools all over the world. Turkey is rich in this regard.
SMOKE CURLS FROM A CIGARETTE
Smoke curls from a cigarette, the
contours disappear into the room
your eyelash between my fingers:
will it be up or down? In us the
aftertaste of something stares at us
from the sofa, if you crouch down
wolves won’t eat you, so the rumour
your nose is splendid, is really something
no rumour, feed the earth, or
outside the houses will collapse
topple over, words swamp us
on days of inspiration we’re washed
away, put the kettle on the hob, release
the Turkish tea glass from its see
through corset, draw nearer
to assimilation, to islamophobia
unlearn your language. be. up. to. date.
(Translated by Martin Kratz)
Who are the poets who shape the pattern of your literary adventure?
Rather than shaping it, I should state that I started poetry with Turkish literature. And the first poems I wrote were in Turkish. I later changed my writing language to German. Orhan Veli, Nâzım Hikmet, Atilla İlhan, Hasan Hüseyin, Ahmed Arif, Turgut Uyar, Melih Cevdet, Cemal Süreya etc. are very valuable. By the way, I have a signed book by Cemal Süreya, hanging in a large frame in my study room in Germany. In 2014, I bought it from a second-hand bookstore named Seyahat Sahaf. After the bookkeeper was sure that the book would go to the right person, he sent it to me. He wanted to know who wanted the book, to whom it was going. Isn’t it beautiful? The book was so untouched that its pages were tied together at the ends and had not even been opened. There was even a conversation about my love for Varlık magazine when we chatted. As a gift, he sent two Varlık magazines from 1955 with it.
Lastly Safiye, writing is written on time, not on paper. What are the ways you searched and found literature written in time?
I have never searched for it, there is no need for it. Regardless of the branch of art, if your work is good, it will be permanent. Of course, it’s also about your talent and the effort and perseverance you put in. My writings will outlive me, I feel it.
Thank you for your time chatting to me Safiye.
Safiye has had her poetry published in magazines, newspapers and anthologies.worldwide. She is a member of the German PEN Center, the German Writers’ Association and the German Translators Association, and has given lectures on poetry at Northern Arizona University and at different universities across Germany. Her poetry has been translated into many languages including English, Bulgarian, Czech, French, Arabic, Circassian, and she has been awarded the Else-Lasker-Schüler poetry award, and the Alfred Müller Felsenburg award for civic courage. Her first poetry book Rose und Nachtigall (Rose and the Nightingale) was published to critical acclaim in 2014, and the second edition won the titles of Bestseller and Longseller in 2020.