10 Okt

VERSOPOLIS Interview & Poems 2018

Interview and poems in English: Versopolis


/ 11 Octo­ber 2018 

A Poetry Ambassador

Inter­view with Safiye Can

Safiye Can was born to Cir­cass­ian par­ents in Offenbach/Main in Ger­many. She is a poet, a writer, an edi­tor and a trans­la­tor, as well. Var­i­ous books and awards, most recent­ly she pub­lished the poet­ry book Kinder der ver­lore­nen Gesellschaft with well-known Ger­man pub­lish­er Wallstein.

You are trans­lat­ing from the Ger­man lan­guage into Turk­ish and vice-ver­sa. For exam­ple, you trans­lat­ed Else Lasker-Schüler. Your par­ents were speak­ing Turk­ish and you learned Ger­man only after enter­ing school. You did not study trans­la­tion, but you grew up with two lan­guages. How dif­fi­cult is it for you to translate?

I like to trans­late poet­ry, but one needs strong nerves and a lot of patience and time. I near­ly feel oblig­ed to trans­late poems. The lev­el of dif­fi­cul­ty of trans­lat­ing depends on the respec­tive poem. If it uses proverbs, phras­es or irony, it is more dif­fi­cult to trans­late. As a rule, it may be said that good poems are eas­i­er to translate.

You were born to Cir­cass­ian par­ents in Offen­bach. Have you ever been to the home of your parents? 

You obvi­ous­ly mean Cir­cas­sia? No, I have nev­er been to the Cau­ca­sus, I have only seen quite touch­ing videos and pic­tures. My par­ents, who were born in Turkey long after the expul­sion of the Cir­cas­sians and who emi­grat­ed to Ger­many quite ear­ly in their lives, hav­ing nev­er been in their ‘orig­i­nal’ home. But unlike me, they are able to speak Cir­cass­ian. My mother’s homes are Turkey and Ger­many, for my father, Turkey remains his only home.

What does your name ‘Safiye’ mean?

After my read­ing last year at Lit­er­aturhaus Mat­ters­burg in Aus­tria, I moved on to Vien­na, and there the lady at the hotel’s recep­tion desk glad­ly told me that my name means ‘the cho­sen’. I did not inves­ti­gate any fur­ther. One should not ques­tion such nice things. Up to this moment I only thought that it is a female first name of Ara­bic ori­gin, which is used in Turkey and I knew that the first three let­ters mean ‘pure and unspoiled’. 

Your poems deal a lot with ‘home’ and ‘affil­i­a­tion’. In your poem ‘Möglicher­weise ganz und gar’ (‘maybe out­right’) you offer var­i­ous solu­tions to what ‘home’ could be – among them ‘a line by Kurt Cobain’ or ‘rad­i­cal 8’. Where or what is your favourite home?

Home is such a dif­fi­cult word, impos­si­ble to cope with in prose. Maybe only poet­ry is able to suc­ceed. In order to make it a bit pre­cise: I feel at home in poet­ry. The poem is my home. Last Decem­ber the local news­pa­per North­ern Ari­zona Sun called me ‘a poet­ry ambas­sador’. In the ten days dur­ing which I was in Ari­zona, I felt at ease with read­ing these lines in a place com­plete­ly new to me. You are at home in a place where you may arrive and where you feel under­stood. It’s a place where you don’t get the feel­ing that you are a stranger, an alien. After the read­ing at North­ern Ari­zona Uni­ver­si­ty, stu­dents came and hugged me. An embrace may be a home, as well.

You have a migra­tion back­ground and you also write about it in your poet­ry – did you ever have any severe dis­ad­van­tages or prob­lems because of your background?

Of course! How shall I be spared some­thing with which oth­ers are con­front­ed dai­ly and – sor­ry to say – increas­ing­ly? You are a teenag­er and you call up the news­pa­per because of an adver­tise­ment for a flat for your par­ents and your­self and they tell you: ‘We don’t rent to for­eign­ers’! In school, you suf­fer dis­ad­van­tages because you have racist teach­ers and you have to achieve dou­ble what oth­ers do. On the way to the Frank­furt Book Fair, you meet a Neo-Nazi at Frank­furt Train Sta­tion, who rams your shoulder.

These exam­ples which imme­di­ate­ly come to my mind are rather harm­less com­pared to things, which rel­a­tives and oth­er peo­ple have suf­fered, but you are also touched and harmed by the expe­ri­ences of oth­ers. When a fire is set at a house in Solin­gen, because Turks are liv­ing there, this is an assault on all for­eign­ers and, strict­ly speak­ing, to all peo­ple. You may do, be or achieve what you want, but you always get the feel­ing: You are a foreigner.

How polit­i­cal does a poet have to be nowa­days? In writ­ing, as well as in pub­lic appearances?

If injus­tice occurs, you have to raise your voice in pub­lic. For this there are many ways, not only in lit­er­a­ture. Not one of us has the right to remain silent.

Of course, I wish that poets were polit­i­cal in their texts and would take a firm stand. We all, the whole world, needs these voic­es. But no author needs to write about some­thing spe­cif­ic. If a poet does not want to be con­front­ed with pol­i­tics and if there is no inner long­ing for it, well, that’s it. No one likes to read arti­fi­cial poems.

And you can only write in a good way about what you have real­ly expe­ri­enced. If you haven’t lived through racism and if you show no empa­thy, it is also fine to write a poem about a can­dle­stick. But it still has to be good.

Per­for­mance is an impor­tant aspect of your poet­ry. What hap­pens when Safiye Can gets on stage?

This is a very nice ques­tion. Indeed, some­thing mag­i­cal is going on inside. Poet­ry is focussed inside me into a spe­cial pow­er which then com­mu­ni­cates from stage with every sin­gle per­son in the audi­ence. The room before the read­ing and the room after the read­ing are not the same any more. I don’t decide how to read a poem, the poem itself decides, how it likes to be read and that’s how it happens. 

You also write short sto­ries. Did it ever come to your mind to write a novel?

Yes, I have it some­where in the back­yard of my mind, for the sake of poet­ry. You know that the major­i­ty of peo­ple stay away from poet­ry and real­ly have some­thing like poet­ry-pho­bia. In order to reach them, one maybe has to write a nov­el. Apart from that, there is hard­ly any poet who has nev­er thought about writ­ing a nov­el – by virtue of the sim­ple rea­son that there are always wor­ried peo­ple giv­ing them advice to write a nov­el. Because one should not starve…

You once wrote a poem about a fly­ing hedge­hog. Do you have a spe­cial rela­tion­ship to hedgehogs? 

No, I nev­er have touched one in my life. The hedge­hog of the men­tioned poem sud­den­ly was in the room – in my home office, to be pre­cise – and moved as I described it. He looked a bit like an inflat­ed blow­fish. But blow­fish­es can’t fly, as we all know (laughs).

Read more about the poet: www.safiyecan.de


All poems trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish by Dr. Mar­ilya Vete­to Reese

Quite pos­si­bly well and truly

Maybe home is a Kurt Cobain line

an Atti­la Ilhan verse

a thou­sand-year-old yearn­ing, the hair gone grey

the scent of rain atop the pasture

a view from the win­dow, blackwhite

foliage on a rut­ted path one autumn day

or Uncle Cemil with his woolen cap, when he laughs.

Maybe home is the shoot­ing star

over Llorett de Mar

that one mil­lisec­ond or the Repub­lic of Adygeja

is the munic­i­pal library of Offenbach

that hous­es Ernst Buch­holz inside

or the key to the door of a house, handed

to some­one in exile

Maybe home is some­thing dead-serious

with a moustache

or a bare­foot-run bit of bridge over water

the fragili­ty of the pop­py blossom

of our childhood

a cal­lithrix jac­chus, a marmoset

or a Hello-Kitty-balloon

hid­ing away in cot­ton candy

Maybe home is a nomad in Tuareg garb

rac­ing here and there

or a Mick­ey Mouse shirt and laced-up shoes

at the Baltic

and hair twist­ed into a braid

is a shat­tered glass you step on

that unex­pect­ed pang in the vicin­i­ty of your chest

Maybe home is falling into your own bed

after nights of par­ty­ing, jeans and sneak­ers still on

and stop­ping short and stop­ping short.

Is a cou­ple danc­ing to the beat of a tan­go for­get­ting themselves

the sight of two white-brown horses

some­times Ter­mi­nal B of the Frank­furt Airport

or just sim­ply Fouzia’s voice.

Maybe home is the root of eight

or a coiled trunk-like thing topped with cinnamon

is a chameleon adapt­ing itself.

Maybe though it’s Mrs. Grün

on the ground floor, who rants about everything




we’ll encounter each other

and behold

like two children

stand­ing oppo­site one another

fac­ing wonder.

I won­der

I won­der

how come today everyone’s smiling

they’re smil­ing downtown

they’re smil­ing at the station

they’re smil­ing eat­ing ice cream

they’re smil­ing on the escalator

they’re smil­ing on the train

they’re smil­ing at the bus stop

but then I notice

that it’s not them who’re smiling

it’s me who’s smiling

they’re just responding.

Nev­er made any­thing of herself

But do not tell

my uncle please

that I became a poet

he’ll just start cry­ing again.

Logo Versopolis

Ver­sopo­lis is a Euro­pean poet­ry plat­form that cre­ates new oppor­tu­ni­ties for emerg­ing Euro­pean poets.