Κυριακή, 17 Δεκεμβρίου 2017

An interview with Turkish-Cypriot poet Gürgenç Korkmazel

Gürgenç Korkmazel, © Stratos Prousalis
On top of discussing various Greek-Cypriot poets in stigmaLogou, at occasions, and of speaking with Cypriot publishers Vassos Ptochopoulos and Katerina Voskaridou, we 've tried to take a look at the Turkish-Cypriot side through an interview from the Turkish-Cypriot poet Mehmet Yaşin. This time, it's another Turkish-Cypriot poet, Gürgenç Korkmazel, that gave us a very interesting interview speaking English in Greek-Cypriot accent(!). Korkmazel, considered one of the best poets on the island, has been translated into Greek in the past, but now came to Athens because of a new translation of his poems, by Angeliki Dimouli this time, that recently came out by vakxikon publications. The launch of his new book is expected to take place in the following months.

Let  us take the opportunity and remind you of our Turkish poetry anthology, taken in the context of the wider special entitled "The poetry of our neighbours".


Christina Linardaki: Do you consider yourself a Turkish-Cypriot poet? What do you think your literary identity is? Is it different from your actual identity?

Gürgenç Korkmazel: Actually, I present myself as a Cypriot poet who writes in Turkish and sometimes in English. It’s language that determines identity, especially in Cyprus. Although in my daily life, I have three official languages: English, Greek and Turkish. My Greek is little but it’s still there in my everyday life and it’s one of my languages, even though I don’t speak it well.

Christina Linardaki: So, if somebody asks you, you say you are Cypriot and you don’t specify.

Gürgenç Korkmazel: Yes. You know, we have the Cyprus problem and the only way we can get out of it is if we put our Cypriotness forward. Because if you say I am Turk or Greek, you divide, you don’t want to be united and reach the peace we all want and need.

Christina Linardaki: You know, many people from my generation or younger don’t know that before the invasion there were Turks on the island living peacefully with Greeks. And that with the invasion you were forced to leave your houses too.

Gürgenç Korkmazel: Oh, we can talk all day long about this: What happened to us afterwards… but with this invasion and occupation something changed. We realized that we are Cypriot and that we have a Cypriot identity when writing. Before, we used to say we were different, but after the occupation we discovered that we are Cypriot: that’s our identity. Before that, it was something else.

Christina Linardaki: It’s quite touching that you are saying that… Now, I’ve read that you describe yourself as an anarchist poet. Why is that?

Gürgenç Korkmazel: For me, the nature of poetry itself is anarchist. It’s like you revolt against something, when you are a poet. But I was also involved in politics a lot and when you read the books and you get to know the ideas you try to place yourself in your generation and time. I found that the philosophy of anarchism is closer to me. That’s why I deliberately say that I’m an anarchist. I’m atheist, but I don’t believe in violence. And you have to be atheist to be an anarchist. But even before that, it’s poetry itself that is anarchist, or has got anarchist tendencies or it should have. At least, the poetry that I like.

Christina Linardaki: But I thought you were mainstream in Cyprus, one of the best poets of the island. How can you be an anarchist when you are part of the system?

Gürgenç Korkmazel:That’s what they say of me, yes. Look, I don’t work with governments. I don’t do anything with governments. I am against them, I criticize them. But, other people call me something else. It doesn’t matter, at the end of the day, what you call yourself: others, groups or individual people, put labels on you, especially as a poet. For example, the President of the Turkish part of Cyprus, Dentktaş, used to call me an erotic poet, because I wrote some erotic poems. For him, I wasn’t an anarchist, I was an erotic poet. Everybody can give you different names.

Christina Linardaki:  If Denktaş didn't call you an erotic poet, he couldn’t have accepted you. Because he is far-right, correct? He couldn’t name you anarchist, because then he would have to fight you. He had to find a label that would provide some common ground.


Gürgenç Korkmazel: Probably…

Christina Linardaki: You are very straightforward in your poetry. You write what you think; you are uninhibited and very sincere.

Gürgenç Korkmazel: I believe that not just in poetry, in literature generally, one has to be sincere. Sometimes people ask me: “Do you lie, when you write?”. I say to them: “I never lie, I fictionize”. But even when you fictionize, you have to be sincere. And yes, I’m straightforward. That’s the way I am. Not only as a poet, in my daily life as well. I like to surprise or embarrass people. Because art should criticize, more than praise, modern society. That’s what I do. Even when I write about sex, I write the truth about me. We think we have secrets and nobody else shares these secrets. But when you talk about your secrets, others say “something similar has happened to me”. For example, when I was 5 years old, I was sexually abused by a soldier in Cyprus. I kept it inside me, I didn’t tell anyone about it, my mother or father, and when I was 20 I wrote a short story about it. And I published it in a newspaper. Many people contacted me then and told me that the same thing had happened to them, when they were children. Until then, I thought I was the only one in this world that this had happened to, but no. It had happened to other people too. So when you let out your secret, you meet other people. That’s sincere communication.

Christina Linardaki:  I’ve read that you belong to a literary generation which doesn’t think much of politics, which believes that politics are not worthy.

Gürgenç Korkmazel:Actually, we have politics, either we like it or not, in our daily life. What I don’t believe in, it’s politicians. Of course, in a country like Cyprus, when you give political messages with your poetry, you reach a wider audience. But when you write erotic poems, most people won’t read you. They don’t want to know what you did or do with your lover or ex-lover. But they love politics.

Christina Linardaki:  Hopefully a political solution will be found for Cyprus one day…

Gürgenç Korkmazel: I have no doubt about it. We are working on it, but it will take a long time. I can tell you for sure it will happen, I just can’t tell you when. That’s my dream: to have one, united, Cyprus. And I don’t mind if it happens after my death, as long as it happens. My children will see it. I am working for them too, for the next generation. I know both sides of Cyprus, I know the societies there and I know things happen slowly. It can take some time, but we’ll get there.

Christina Linardaki:  Are you familiar with Greek poetry?

Gürgenç Korkmazel: In Greece?

Christina Linardaki:  Yes, in Greece. Do you know any Greek poets?

Gürgenç Korkmazel:  I know the world poetry. I know a poet from every country: From Iceland to Greece, from Lebanon to Costa Rika. And of course I know some Greek poets.

Christina Linardaki:  Modern ones?

Gürgenç Korkmazel: Yes, I mean since Cavafy. Seferis, Elytis, Ritsos... Although, after Eleni Vakalo I don’t know many. But the ones I know I keep reading in English or Turkish, because they are part of my culture. I get great pleasure from reading Greek poetry and there are many Greek Cypriot poets that I love. Left-wing and right-wing. Right-wing poets like Kostas Montis, for example, even though politically we are far from each other. I don’t mind what is their political orientation, as long as they write good poetry. I judge the person not for their ideology but for their poetry.

Christina Linardaki: Are you happy that you’ve been translated into Greek?

Gürgenç Korkmazel: Sure. Because Greek is one of my languages. I have another project, which involves the English translation of my poems, but I’m happy that the Greek translation came out first, because, after Turkish, for me comes the Greek language.

Christina Linardaki: That’s why one of your collections is «Ψε…», in Greek letters?

Gürgenç Korkmazel: Yes.

Christina Linardaki: Fascinating! Do you believe that poetry or literature in general can change the world?

Gürgenç Korkmazel: No. But I believe it can change some people’s minds, one’s life, or maybe some societies’. You know, in our era the younger generations want what is fast and easy and poetry doesn’t give you that. Life is so fast. I need poetry every day, not to write, to read. Because it slows down the pace of life. We all need poetry actually, because we need to slow down, we ’re going too fast. Especially in the cities, the city life.

Christina Linardaki: Even in poetry there are fast ways in our times. Are you familiar with the term “Instapoet”? Instapoets are people who have many followers on Instagram, write things, publish a book with these things and then it sells like crazy. A good example is Rupi Kaur. Her “Milk and Honey” sold 1.5 million copies.

Gürgenç Korkmazel:Things in poetry format?

Christina Linardaki: Exactly. In poetry format. Not poetry.

Gürgenç Korkmazel: I’ve always said that, if you want to reach a wider audience, you should write clichés. If you don’t write in clichés, you will reach a minority. When I write poems, I try to disturb people, keep them awake. I try to reach the open-minded. If your mind is not open, don’t read me, because you’ll get angry and disappointed. It won’t work for you.

Christina Linardaki: You remind me of a Greek poet, Argyris Chionis, who said that poetry is like a small pebble covered with sugar. You want to taste it and just when it starts sweetening your mouth, it breaks your teeth.

Gürgenç Korkmazel: You’ll have to write down his name for me, so that I can look him up. Like I said, I don’t know many poets after Vakalo. But, from what I see around the globe, the female voice is starting to become stronger in terms of poetry. Women will write the poetry of the future, because in the past the majority of poets were men. Same goes for Cyprus: nowadays, the most powerful poems are written by women. Same in England. Same in Iceland. Because when women are free, they write better than men.

Christina Linardaki: So, you believe in women being free? Right, you told me you’re an atheist... Which means you’re not a Muslim. So, you don’t want women to be confined?

Gürgenç Korkmazel: What?! Come on… I believe in equality and freedom. In my society in Cyprus, I’ve seen how women were suppressed all those years, when they couldn’t express themselves. And now they have a chance with education and economic status to change that and express themselves. When a lady poet writes, then there is something new in poetry. We, men, have to learn from them. They have a different perspective. They bring the new poetry and I really follow and support that.

Christina Linardaki: You’ve lived in Cyprus, Turkey and England. And now you’re back in Cyprus. Do you feel homeless or dislocated at times?

Gürgenç Korkmazel: I used to feel this way long time ago, because I couldn’t go visit the house or the village I was born in, I couldn’t cross the border. And everybody around was talking about it: my father, my mother, my grandfather, everybody. Then, I left Cyprus and lived in many houses, many places. Cypriots are fanatic about their home: the house they were living and then had to leave. But I am not fanatic because for me it’s like having many houses, many homes. And the house where I was born is just one of them. I think, in Cyprus, we have to change our attitude about what is home. Cyprus is my homeland. I don’t have any other homeland, but I have many homes. I miss them sometimes, alright, but it’s OK.

Christina Linardaki: Death is a recurrent theme in your work. Does it scare you?
Gürgenç Korkmazel:  I believe that poetry exists because of death. Art exists because of death. Death for me is not the end of life, it’s part of life.

Christina Linardaki: You don’t believe in afterlife, though.

Gürgenç Korkmazel: No, I believe that death is the end. Full stop. But I don’t have a problem with that. I know about nature, how it works. Fear of death came upon us after modernism: we got afraid of death because we think we have become immortal or because we live as if we were immortal. But, we aren’t. As far as I am concerned, death makes me focus on life more. Death is a taboo, but I like writing about taboos. I told you I like to surprise people and embarrass them: last week I was talking to a friend of mine, a bookshop owner, and I told him: “you know, your funeral will be very crowded”. And he was shocked: “Why are you saying this?”. I replied, “Because you are a very social person and you talk to so many people”. I always want to remind people that there is death, so whatever you’ve got to do, do it now. Don’t postpone it. Then, it’s very important to me to write about death and my relationship with it. When someone reaches old age and dies, it’s normal, even if it is your father or mother, whom you’ll miss. That’s the agreement with life.

Christina Linardaki: One last question: Do you believe that happiness is achievable?

Gürgenç Korkmazel: You know, we have many feelings. Happiness is just one of them. It is not my aim, to be happy. Philip Larkin, an English poet, has said the good poems come from unhappiness. I don’t believe him, because sometimes I’m happy and I write poems and people find them good as well. In this life, we are happy one moment, unhappy the other, because we’ve heard of something meanwhile or because something happened. It’s changing all the time, it doesn’t stay with us. And I don’t understand people that run after happiness all the time. Because if you run after it, you only chase it away.

But what I’d like to aim and reach, is peace. Peace of mind and peace around me. That’s more important than happiness for me. That brings me happiness most of the time, anyway.


Gürgenç Korkmazel, © Stratos Prousalis



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