24 Aug

THE POET magazine, England 2021


Inter­view im THE POET Mag­a­zin, England

By Murat Yurdakul
Unit­ing the world through poetry

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An inter­view with Safiye Can.
By Murat Yurdakul

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.



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 

or Hel­lo-Kit­ty-bal­loon

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.



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



How for­tu­nate. 



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.


How unfor­tu­nate. 

(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, 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.

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