Sami Baydar - Dispatches from the Poetry Wars

Sami Baydar
Sami Baydar: A Language of Dying
Paul Celan,
Between 1987 and 1996, in four books, The Gentlemen of the World (Dünya Efendileri,
1987), The Green Flame (
, 1991), The World Will Tell Me the Same Thing (Dünya
, 1995) and The World of Flowers (
, 1996), Sami
Baydar created one of the most resonant bodies of work in Turkish poetry. After a hiatus of
nine years, starting with Between Being and Non-Being (
, 2003) and
continuing with The Portrait of Nicholas (
, 2005) and the posthumous
book The Body Always Struggles (
develop an increasingly minimalist style
he Black Sea and spending the rest of his life there mostly
in isolation from the Istanbul poetry community.
The present selection opens with the fourteen-line poem "leaf" which also begins The
Gentlemen of the World in my opinion one of the most complex and formative poems of
modern Turkish poetry
cage" which he wrote in the last years of his life and appear in his posthumous book The
Body Always Struggles.1
poetry undergoes in twenty-five years. Nevertheless, the break is more apparent than real.
Despite their pared-down simplicity, the later pieces are full of gaps, indirect, ambiguous
references, narrative leaps which draw the attention away from the words, what is being said,
to what is being unsaid, the silent space behind, around the words:
ess is making words vanish
A similar space
basically a space triggered in the mind of the reader is the heart of
und two crucial puns
from a tree in geometric, four-dimensional precision (angles of leaves to the ground change
as they move in time).2 Simultaneously, the poem depicts a movement of thought tracing
Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry, edited by Murat Nemet-Nejat published by Talisman
House in the United States in 2004 contains twenty pages of Baydar translations, but none from his first book
The Gentlemen of the World. The book was out of print, and I could not get hold of a copy despite all my
A similar analytic depiction of motion occurs in "The Sea Bird." That poem, also included in this selection,
depicts the movements of a sea gull hovering over and grazing the surface of waves on the sea.
in the reader's mind, welded to the text by the pun). In that way, in the poetry the
objectivity of the falling leaf and the subjectivity of the consciousness observing it become
unified, the objective (words) becoming a portal to the spiritual (the infinite space, silence
surrounding language).
a trigger for a spiritual fall from grace. Air has a very important place in Sufi cosmology
because it unifies the invisible divine with the visible. One may have intimations of the
divine by tracing the motions, cadences of a branch or a leaf affected by the wind. Even
though the word God is barely mentioned in
poet his university degree was in drawing and painting. His poems progress by the poet
assigning mental spaces to his thoughts. Often, the structure of the poems, as in "The
Crown," consists of the arrangement of these spaces, the music the mental cadences
they create. Language itself the syntactical clarity of references within a sentence is
seemingly an afterthought, almost never, except for the puns, the direct focus of the poet. The
arrangement of thought in some of his most resonant poems seems on the verge of chaos
due to sudden jumps and a shifting ambiguity in who or what the addressee is, partly
achieved by the absence of gender and most other specifying distinctions in Turkish
pronouns a language which seems a mixture of flatness pierced by moments of dazzling
clarity. What one has is a space of blurred meaning where what one sees are exchanges among
different spaces. The main impetus of the Baydar poem is to move from the specifity of
language to the openness of blurred space, the transition from the limitations of words to a
place beyond them: in other words, a poetry on the peripheries of language.
which is impossible and where language breaks down. Bay
daring, destructive, paradoxical act basically, a gesture of cutting the branch on which one
stands and observing its fall.
awkward, an
poetry even if ever there are happening innocently, despite him. Nothing is further away
from the facts. Baydar is involved in one of the most radical acts that a contemporary poet
Because of Atatürk's secularist reforms, "God" has been the most taboo word in Turkish poetry. I discuss in
detail the subversive spirituality of
Eda: An Anthology, pp. 323/33). The word "God" is the absent presence (the sea
bird) hovering over the main body of Turkish poetry, the wind blowing through it.
can be involved in, the near destruction of the very medium on which poetry stands,
language, for the purpose of transforming its possibilities. In that respect, he reminds me of
another Turkish poet Orhan Veli and his statement in the Garip Manifesto of
endeavor is up to each reader. After extensive reading and brooding on his poetry, going
through the gyrations of doubt and enthusiasm, where I finally stand is perfectly clear.
Murat Nemet-Nejat
Poems by Sami Baydar
Translated from Turkish by Murat Nemet-Nejat4
Nemet-Nejat is working on a collection of Baydar's poetry in English.
Virgin River
To bathe in your water
between your face and your hair
a hand must be...
as if one single sparrow left its tail flying.
1982 (The World Will Tell Me the Same Thing)
Water boils.
It is the cloud of the sick,
the heat rises.
this fire is
this spring.
roots park
up the tree,
1985 (TWWTM)
a thought of the breeze,
irrelevantly twisting falling on the cement
in guilt
turning a connection with itself
joining the ends of a circle and at every turn
a change of angle
and the sum of all these dimensions
shows its distance from the ground
and it desires only
to see these the circles and to show
this distance
unrelated to the breeze
it only sees itself
tracing as
the gestures of a thought's heart in
the twisting falling of the leaf
every turn every turn
on itself.
19876 (The Gentlemen of the World)
"leaf" and "VII" constitute the first two poems in Baydar's first book of poetry The Gentlemen of the World.
"leaf" posits one side, the Arc of Descent, of a crucial Sufi ikonography, the opposite side being the Arc of Ascent.
The Arc of Descent is a movement away from union with the divine and with love towards multiplicity,
continuous motion and chaos. The entirety of Baydar's poetry can be seen as a struggle, through tears and
suffering due to the loss of a loved one, to re-enter the spiritual state of the Ark of Ascent which, in Baydar, can
only be achieved by death. The processes of the Arcs of Descent and Ascent (or vice versa) are simultaneous, not
sequencial. The shift from the one to the other is perceptual/spiritual. It occurs in the mind. For instance, in
"leaf" the physical fall of the leaf by the wind, simultaneously, is traced by the reader as the movement of a
thought ("a thought of the breeze"). That way, the physical language of Baydar's poetry becomes a gateway to a
spiritual ascent in the reading. Alchemically, words (depicting fall, tears, suffering) become spirit.
Unless an earlier one for the poem is indicated, the date represents the publication date of the book in which
the poem first appears.
I am touching your ear, it produces sadness
you are telling me of one of the draughtsman
your making love together
sing with affection
the draughtsman was drawing the ear in one whole year,
they say
my hands feel numb i take them to my lips
how do your words fit together with that next to you, in your dream
why is your picture known by this title young man,
the bitter fumes
are asking
falling from some eyes but all together
they say
fields on earth).
1987 (TGOTW)
No One Home7
When my wife cried
my servants told her to keep quiet
as I, while they kiss her hand,
see it in the mirror.
They embraced my wife, daughter,
making them drink herbs, I saw it in the mirror,
she sleeping, they worship her
by her bed.
Before my wife my servant
puts his forehead to the ground, from his back
the top of a creature is emerging
who listens to my wife like a child.
is pleading with me on the floor, but I see
her climbing someone in the mirror
sadly I love her.
My love lifts the weights from her body
and she, growing light,
can approach me
as the servant sees the blood on the floor
I see her crying in the mirror.
The servant is climbing down the stairs in the mirror
I see a postman arriving
the servant says there is no one home.
1991 (The Green Flame)
The mirror is a central symbol in Sufism, the site where God, the human mind and nature can see themselves
to see oneself only as a reflection, an it
experiences everything as seen
apprehended only through reflections." The Arc of Descent in this poem is at the center of human consciousness
around its disorientation and dissolution,
The Corner of the Wall
Arriving in hell
Now I pulled off a handful of hair
tomorrow, if my heart wills it,
on the branch where the dragonfly is.
One of the birds raised its head
saw my light,
not important that it noticed it
or not.
I gathered grass, dirt, branch, bush
and drew a bird on the wall
outside a posy of dried grass
and this fistful of hair
with this dried dragonfly unable
to survive with the bird.
1991 (TGF)
Roses being buried inside shades
broken up in laughter, beautiful
dark garden.
Only yesterday it rained,
no mud
such such little time is permitted to everything,
my brother naked under white sheets
making neeew friends.
I carry summer in whites
in whites birds, spring
shadows are changing
that make me disappear entirely
and odd facts.
are becoming happy again.
1991 (TGF)
The late ones are taken by death,
but it takes them early, before anyone arrives
the birds flocking to the first step
rains fighting in tears are guarding us
there are spins belonging to you, in the attracting
Like a caterpillar the rain is flowing over him
snarled s o s is sending waves to the shore
rising in the throat to the surface, death
is putting on its gloves, at the depth of words
you whispered to those swimming
I'm not sore, just spinning firecrackers in my mouth,
what's off, eye lines will true, it seems, on my part,
the broken line is vowing
revenge waking up crying
the letter flowing from the lip to the eye
telling its dream
On my part, I see my salvation on shoulder ends
but I can't tell what's in the pitcher because the wall of
shoulder ends doesn't resemble the walls in the world.
If rains fighting in tears then
like a caterpillar over the pitcher
the man asking for help
1987 (TWWTM)
I can't tell what's in the pitcher: Water in a pitcher is invisible; one can only see its contours ("shoulders,"
"walls"). A poem almost beyond speech. To know what is inside the pitcher, one has to drown; the poem is
Pine Cone
is inside water fire
and star.
I'll rip off my back
a left-handed weakness
dragonfly wings.
Like a giant pupa
like on glazed lit fields
In a net a dead weight
scaring the fisherman.
maybe he did not, could not
haul that catch,
letting the net loose
in the water.
A shadow
merely moving scary dark water,
Maybe what makes water deeper
is my being in it
in my clothing
beyond my knowing
1988 (TWWTM)
Baptismal Tray
I used to collect horse chestnuts
I knew, I rolled in meadows
in hollows and projections...
which stopped them.
As half of a sliced lemon
gets moldier, forming a white line
along its edge, the holding hand-in-hand
of angels.
The rain forced to settle
inside a snail grows
field angels inside.
The girl entering a dark salon
a light, lightly, is feeling its hand on your back,
phosphorescent crayons of
erotica everywhere.
That unpossessable prepossessing sleeping child, me,
is holding a flower belonging to ancient worlds
in a book.
Drawing a baseless triangle
watching the ancient flower...
the ancient flower is signaling a flying coercion
to the candle, capsizes
scratched by bird's feet...
Fearing that you might notice
the oddness of lines delineated in emptiness
ing in the direction of the sound, then,
as if asking you to focus at an odder thing,
(Chestnuts, moldy lemon, colored stones,
cooled waters, a dry leaf, a burnt match,
a few shining objects, a glowing lid,
snail shell, a burnt out candle...)
As you leave the child is waking:
we'll write another poem, before being turns into purity.
1988 (TWWTM)
I hold under shedding tears,
a thirst pit,
at thirty,
I arrange your neckties.
Please tell me what's a good time for you.
From the wood a gazelle is escaping midnight
springing it back will take
tears warped
wood after years.
Warm bread is waylaying me nowadays
as if I hallucinate a rabbit in the bush
if I merely take a walk in the field
either way the house guest is gone (you
were used to this place,
Before leaving on the trip
checking out
the house
the windows,
the wind is
like the first stirrings of pain on the roof
first lost foreskins of living,
yet unfulfilled.
weep. weep.
1991 (TGF)
The Crown
In this world if someone opens a window
nowhere no time
him do it.
Scanning the history of symmetry, stars
also scan the royal crown
Moon and stars are only a minor circle,
they say,
holding light spectrum to seven severe colors
this minimalist desire isn't for the dying
still greater stars, leave empty that great silence,
one of the lowly ones takes the job
And inside inside your eyes, maids,
would like for a moment cease ironing.
1996 (The World of Flpwers)
the finders of moonlight, piano and Roman bells?
consolations dying, lose their innocence
When your coffin opens, smile for the new friends
complain how hard it is to carry this to carry this
my Lord, during the moments of laughter
treat me nice
In the house of shadows, the sea gulls multiply, they multiply
lit up by your flashlight...
my eyes, wounded by these, little empty chasms open
1996 (TWOF)
A Sea Bird
Towards the apex of the wave created on the
surface of the ocean, the bird
draws an arc, first is on the right side of this wave
its breast grazes the water
lifting, then the wave slides right
the bird reaches above the apex
and in the space relinquished by the wave
weaves to the highest point reached by the
cresting wave
hitting it on a tangent returns
belly first the bird is now entering the vault of the arc
scaling down in the left side of the wave
the wave progressing and passing this arc
draws a circle completed
or adding the waveless emptiness of the moment between two waves joining9
to the arching vault
there is always a crest left back
by a slightly sliding wave
the surface of the sea
is full of these circles of witchery
traced in the air
as a sea bird lingers on the wave
until the wave completes its circumferal motion
between two waves adds to itself
the emptying circle
of the previous wave.
1996 (TWOF)
The waveless emptiness of the moment between two waves: Not the waves, but the space in-between, is the
ultimate end of this poem. Does the progress of waves embody change or is it a sensory illusion, the water
remaining static and only the location of its up-and-down movement changing? The poem starts with a
description of the bird's flight in relation to water (very much like the movement of the leaf to the ground in
"leaf"; and ends with bird and water joining in a third place, the emptiness in-between, becoming a
gers on the wave/ until the wave completes its cirumferal
is left is union in emptiness. The sensory becomes the spiritual
Emily Dickinson
She was a
book worm,
gifting them
to friends.
You remember,
Emily Dickinson
had gifted me
her acrylic paints.
Everyone was gifting paints.
Emily Dickinson,
back from me
to give it...
I was told this all the way to England.
They gave you their garbage.
Emily Dickinson
given me
two poems
for Christmas.
Miracle of miracles,
my door was ringing.
I was 18.
used to laugh
at my eyeglasses.
2012 (The Body Always Struggles)
in poems (named
have poems
in them,
2012 (TBAS)
The cage
is empty.
2012 (TBAS)