Dubravka Djuric: i find this discussion very inspiring

thank you kent, david, murat, gheraldo, and luc.

first i would like to say that 'poezija' is one the most beautiful magazines in the area of postyugoslav cultural space, dedicated to poetry, as far as i know. it is huge, beautifully designed, representing poetry and other writings by croatian poets of different generations, which i find very important (the dialogue between the generations of urban poets), and with poets from other parts of former yugoslavia (which is so important in the long symbolic process of reconciliation in the space of former yugoslavia after the wars), as well as poets from other cultures, including us. i have just 2 issues. i have to mention, that now many magazines in the area publish writers from other parts of ex yu, which is so important, the languages are similar, the 70 years leaving in the same country is also important cultural and historical fact...

my and david's comments could be seen as examples of local cultural wars, that are now possible to be seen in the global virtual space, and as murat said, it is really interesting to have opportunity to discuss in this way... i find the things very complex and not with definitive answers, and everything have to do with power relations in our local cultures, with the fact of what social space do we inhabit (imperial or nonglobalized), and what is our place within that cultural space.

regarding the problem of the work that has the power of national representation, i will mentioned the work of the best known prose writer from former yugoslavia, dubravka ugresic, who in 1999 or 2000 in central european university in budapest at one session of regional seminar, said that she was for a long period of time writer who could not published in croatia because of her political stances (she was abandoned and erased because critical of every nationalism in former yu including croatian -- you could read her in english), and, as far as i remember, she defined herself as former yugoslav writer, but in every context she was referred to as croatian prose writer. so the way we construct our writerly identity, and how others see us, is sometimes complex matter.

it is interesting, that although us and serbia have been in conflict, during the 90s in serbia + montegenro appeared 5 anthologies of us poetry, and i suppose that the pictures of us poetry in them, despite the same authors that appear in all, are quite different. i will mentioned nina zivancevic's anthology, many of you know nina for she lived in us for long period of time, connected with beat poets, new york school, and with language poets... and nina is among the most important poets for me writing in 80ies. the other is the one that i did with vladimir kopicl. kopicl is one of the most important poets from vojvodina, his books were specially important for me when i started writing in 80s. kopicl suggested that it will be interesting that my interest in nonnarrative mostly language poets and his interest for narrative poets could present dynamic picture of us poetry. and the influence of us poetry in postcomunist time is so interesting. people said to me that new york school is so important for some poets born after 1960 and after 1970 specially in slovenia and poland. ashbery and o'hara are translated in slovene, and some polish poets of generation born after 1960 named themselves as o'harist, i think in mid 80s. in croatia recently appeared two so interesting anthologies: one of african-american poetry translated and edited by bosnian-croatian poet mario susko, who i think lives in usa, and postmodern american poetry made by poet petar opacic, writer living in town split at adriatic coast, for which hoover's norton anthology is so important reference. (he also made an interesting anthology of us short story.)

i would like to stress one thing, that the western countries don’t have privilege to have a modernity, high modernism, and avant-garde, other parts of the world have it also. and all cultures have different heritages, and construct different heritages in different times, and in historical perspective, all this is about power struggles. if you have read maria todorova 'imagining balkan', one of the most valuable thing is that she points how countries and nations in this region defined themselves through history of modernism as integral part of 'western' world, or as its 'other', and the consequences were and are always extremely dramatic.

as far as i could see from a big distance, us poetry scene is so huge and diverse, and i find that fact so exciting... when i was in 1994 in usa, i wanted to broaden my interest, but i realized that it is so huge terrain, and that i find the work by language poets most interesting for me as a poet and critics with theoretical ambitions. and i suppose that this kind of work could be boring, and problematic in many ways for the majority of poets, not to mention the broader public, but it is good to have this kind of work, along with other kinds ... i am so exciting when i see other cultures, first of all us, because i study some aspects of this culture for more than 20 years, but also some other, for example polish, we have great translator of polish poetry biserka rajcic, which i find amazing..., and what i am amazed with is the high modernist/postmodernist paradigm as the one that is posed as a central... and i am really happy to see as a part of globalizing process how in many cultures people include always new names of different writers, theoreticians, etc, and discuss them, and making different parallel canons. i find this process that is taking place now for so many years important... i have feeling that this process is not still established in my context... working from 1994 within the feminist context in serbia, i think that we managed to do some important work in this direction reactualizing many forgotten women writers, theoreticians, etc, but these efforts are not enough. the same should be done with other areas, with poets and writers who are omitted from the BIG NATIONAL CANON. it is usually said that excluded or just mentioned writers are not big enough because their poems are bad. but we here haven’t questioned yet the category of 'good' and 'bad', because it is still believed that we all know what is 'good' and 'bad' literature. at the moment in serbia you have 2 dominant models of poetry (i suppose that murat points to similar distinction in turkish context): one is urban plain narration, and the other is a kind of religious-nationalist discourse which deals with 'heroic national past', local mythologies, and history in a very archaic way as if the modernism never happened (although sometimes this kind of writing could be find in the relation to what you could recognize as experimental style, which is important to have in mind). and these two models in different variations are the only ones available. you have cultures with more opportunities in different area of life, work, politics, and cultures in which you don’t have choice... someone may say that having choice is also just an illusion, but there are places where you don’t have that illusion... so it depends on the degree, but sometimes this degree really does matter in the construction of everyday life.... and the real limitations.

i would like now to turn to murat's discussion, which is so important to me... the question of folk heritage in national culture... serbian culture is among cultures whose elite put at the center folk tradition, which means constructing and producing rural and heroic local universal timeless order. folklore epic is constructed as a kind of myth of origin. folklore epics are origin and from here 'all serbian literature comes'. put at the central place the folk culture is so problematic, because it limits the possibilities of the kind of work that is possible to write in local context. epic culture is constructed as rural, and 'essential' to serbian people, and this means that urban culture is not. or if it is, it is only in the range of moderate modernist styles. so i object and am for constructing different canons of different kinds or traditions of literature. SO THAT NATIONAL LITERATURE IS NOT AN ORGANIC UNITY, AS IT IS USUALLY REPRESENTED IN SMALL CULUTRES... and if i look at the difference between slovenian, serbian and croatian literature canons, i could say that in slovenian and croatian literature modernistic paradigms, even if moderate modernism/postmodernism is in question, are positioned as central. in serbia the difference is that 'we' have problem with modernism, and urban literature, so antimodernism is always somewhere near along with moderate forms of modernism. in anthologies it will mean that you will usually have antimodernist and moderate modernist poets, because national literature is considered to be ideal organism. and if you don’t represent it in this way you are accused not to be objective and you are unjust....

i would try to put this in more drastic way:

1. when in central and south east europe is referred to national poetry then it is not referred to poetry that comes from people or masses, but to the reception of international imperialist high modernist poetry from previous epochs in actuality. this reception is not conducted by the people on the bases of their oral traditions but based on the intellectual political and military/police elite who construe and impose the ideology of national identity in one historical moment. thus for a small cultures it is the determining struggle against late modernisms that are shown as if they spring out of national beings. national being does not exist it is just political construction. the struggle against it implies pointing to the synchronicity of the work with different actual contemporary cultural practices.

2. and what is contemporary serbian or turkish poetry tradition? it is enlightenment romantic context through which the political elites of these nations identify themselves in time and posit it as a universal image of its nation.

3. the crucial question here is the question of national populism, elitism and popular culture in contemporary world. national populism in serbia and in us implies imperialist populist war politics and the way that the serbian elites imitate american politics in balkan in their un-successful wars in bosnia. populism in its parodical humor, and entertaining folklore may looks like subversive, but it is always object of manipulation of cultural elites and state apparatuses.

Dubravka Djuric

1 comment:

Murat said...


Thank you for your wonderful, thought-provoking post. I would like to respond to the issue of a nationalist language and poetry as it works itself out in the Turkish context and also to your speculation on what a "nationalist literature" must really mean in Turkey, namely: "and what is contemporary serbian or turkish poetry tradition? it is enlightenment romantic context through which the political elites of these nations identify themselves in time and posit it as a universal image of its nation."

There is no question that Turkish critics (and a few poets) who see Turkish poetry in western ideological terms, as a conflict between communist ideology and corrupt "lackey" Americanism see Turkish poetry in terms you describe. The best example of this is in their attitude towards the poets Nazim Hikmet and Orhan Veli, who lived about the same time. The more widely known of the two, Hikmet, a communist, whose poetry was suppressed, spent most of his time in jail. Veli, whose poetry seems almost about nothing, was quite popular, and to this day people know many of his poems by heart. Years after their deaths, the poet Attila Ilhan, quite characteristically of a certain point of view, claimed that the Turkish government pushed Veli's popularity in order to suppress Nazim Hikmet's poetry, as part of a political campaign. Ilhan called Veli a "state poet." in an analysis which basically would agree with your concluding words, “populism in its parodical humor, and entertaining folklore may looks like subversive, but it is always object of manipulation of cultural elites and state apparatuses.”

I completely disagree with this view, as far as Turkish poetry is concerned. Attila’s Ilhan’s critique of Veli is occurs through the eyes of the cold war, to paraphrase your words, through the prism of a 19th century western ideology of Marxism. It distorts the reality of Turkish poetry as it has occurred. This does not mean my view leans towards an epic,” nationalism driven poetry. Such a poet does exist in Turkish, Fazil Hüsnü Daglarca (translated by Talat Sait Halman and published by Pittsburgh University Press in…). Some critics consider Daglarca to be the greatest Turkish poet since Hikmet. I disagree. Daglarca or Attila Ilhan do not appear at all in my anthology. That is part of its controversial status in Turkey.

To clarify how I think Turkish poetry, eda, creates an experimental literature (not necessarily in western avant-garde terms), I will turn to traditional spiritual troubadour poetry.

As I mentioned earlier, the traditional Turkish folk form is “koshma,” which consists of rhymed, syllabic quatrains in abab//cccb/dddb, etc, format with the final stanza mentioning the poet’s name. After 1923 and the establishment of the Turkish Republic, a number of poets for a short while used the rhymed stanza form as the proper form for a new Turkish poetry. The great contribution of both Veli and Hikmet is that each in his own way demolished this stanzaic structure releasing the cadential movement of nuances –a language of unfolding perceptions- which is the essence of Turkish. In my view, Veli is finally the superior poet –at least the one I feel closer to- because in his work this essence exist in a purer form, first, more directly abstracted from a demotic language of the street; second, because Veli refuses to use any other enhancing rhetorical means, besides cadence. His poetry has almost no metaphors, except as a joke, so that one is forced to ask after reading a Veli poem, why does the poem resonate so much, why is it so powerful. Many Veli’s poems are on the internet (http://www.cs.rpi.edu/~sibel/poetry/orhan_veli.html). Fifteen additional ones are in the Talisman magazine which just came out:

I love beautiful women,
I also love working women;
But I love beautiful working women

Because of the amount of time he spent in jail, there is something static about Nazim Hikmet’s Turkish. For instance, though his absolutely wonderful poems about his life in prison, in letter form to his wife, describe his longings, his thoughts, the life of the other inmates in the ward, the language in the poems shows almost no influence of the language of people around him, no slang, no particular twists of language, etc. It remains the same, basically the spoken Turkish of his aristocratic, upper middle class background remaining as given. In that sense, for Hikmet the language he uses is transparent.

The two major movements ensuing Hikmet and Veli in the 20th century, “The Second New” in the late fifties and sixties and “The Poetry of Motion” (my phrase) in the nineties, both start with an attack on Veli (the “insufficiency” of his poetic revolution) and end up embracing or emulating him.

After Hikmet and Veli, Turkish poetry crosses ideological, ethnic, geographical and historical and sexual lines. It has a democratic elasticity which admits almost any voice into itself, acting as a reflecting, constantly adapting mirror, a public Samizdat (an amazing number of major Turkish books, particularly in the early years, were self-published) . For instance, the Kurdish poems of Ahmet Arif, written in the sixties, say things that may have easily ended him in jail. His is a poetry written in the voice, point of view of mountain Kurds, a guerrilla lyric, describing their guerilla fights against the authorities. Ece Eyhan, his language seemingly the reverse of Arif’s, elliptic, cryptic, hermetic, injects Jewish, Armenian, Greek references, to their histories and holy books, and gay and hustler slang, their coded puns into his poetry (A Blind Cat Black and Orthodoxies, Sun and Moon Press, 1997). Ahmet Arif and Ece Ayhan knew each other. What is more they belong to the same movement, “The Second New,” to which also belong Cemal Süreya, Ilhan Berk (Selected Poems by Ilhan Berk, edited by Onder Otçu, Talisman House, 2004), Metin Eloglu, Edip Cansever and Turgut Uyar. This assimilative power, which draws and unites otherwise utterly heterogeneous tendencies within an underlying linguistic movement is unique to 20th century Turkish among middle eastern languages. From what Duvranka is saying it may be unique including Eastern European/ Balkan languages. In my view, it is unique, including Western modernism, with the possible exception of U.S. for which a poetics describing the nature of this unity has not been spelled out yet. I believe this enterprise should start with rejecting any idea of an American poetic tradition, replacing it with a poetics of cross currents, at the heart of which lies an analysis of the place of words in the American (and global) culture, and its struggle (of words) with the place of images in the same culture.

Echoing Dubravka’s comments at the end of her post, I would like to make two militant statements. They may be militant within the frame of this blog, but even more so within the framework of Turkish literature and criticism:

a) 20th century Turkish poetry does not constitute a national literature. The three prongs which define eda, its underlying concept, undercut the very idea of such national identity.

The first prong is geographic, eda’s focus on the city of Istanbul. Everything about Istanbul is non-unitary, an endlessly assimilative urban landscape. (In his Journals visiting Constantinople, Melville puts his finger exactly on this quality of the city.) First, the city is divided in its middle into two continents, Asia and Europe, by The Bosporus. Second, the city is the spiritual center of both East Orthodox Christianity (as Constantinople/Byzantium) and Islam (Istanbul). Located in its different parts, both minorities and Moslems inhabit the city (the red light areas belonging to the district mostly inhabited by minorities at the time). Parts of stunning, almost erotic beauty are intermingled with crooked, narrow, dilapidated streets. From 1950 to 2006, Istanbul changes from a city of one million to a 21rst century global metropolis of about fifteen million. Eda poets trace different parts of the city as if it were a body, with visible and hidden parts, to develop a narrative of subversive revelation, sexual, political, religious, etc. To see how this works, as the saying goes, one should buy the book, the Eda Anthology, and read it at some length.

In 1991, the poet Lale Müldür wrote the stunning poem “Waking to Constantinople “in which through sinuous, long lines she creates a poem of synthesis between the “dream world” of Byzantium and the Islamic “rationality.” The poem ends with the lines:

you are asleep now in the white washed byzantine room, you are very
alone. one of the ancients is saying, “Don’t cry.”
“Tomorrow is your birthday. Tomorrow a new name will be given to you.”

Müldür read this poem in a public park which used the be part of the grounds of the Ottoman Topkapi palace. She was booed off stage. The booing reflects both the power of poetry still in the Turkish culture and also its subversive transnational nature.

The second prong of eda is in the nature of the language itself. To find their way in it, first rejecting the Ottoman court language, Turkish poets turn to the early history of Turkish poetry, from Anatolia going back to Central Asia. In other words, consciously or not, they are not treating Turkish in national, modern Republic terms. As a consequence, often also only half consciously, they also drag in the pantheistic, animistic sensibility which is at the heart of Sufism. Particular since 1990’s, Turkish poetry has developed an exquisite assimilative sensibility pulling movements both from the East (the central Asia and the former Turkish republics of the Soviet Union ) and the West (former Soviet satellites) into itself, continuously in search of an evolving synthesis, what I call the poetry of motion.

What I am trying to say is that Turkish has created a poetry which speaks exquisitely to our time, where old boundaries have fallen apart and new ones have not been built yet, and what one has is only painful, gut-grinding process, change. It is a poetry of unfolding process, as Turkish is the language of thought unfolding. This poetry is the result of a perfect storm created by the almost accidental convergence of social, historical, geographic and linguistic forces –and not through the will of a national consciousness- the way suddenly an island appears, due to tectonic movements under water. Its shape can be hoped, guessed for; but not completely defined.

As a book in English, part of the purpose of the Eda anthology is to create a lingua franca, to refer to Linh’s beautiful space of sailors in his post, a pidgin English through which us nomads of different parts of the world can find a common language. One of the central books of Turkish poetry, Cemal Süreya’s “üvercinka” is translated in the Eda anthology as “Pigeon English.”