|Neşe Yaşin at the launch of her Greek book|
Christina Linardaki: Why “Forbidden gardens”?
Neşe Yaşın: I chose this title because my poetry is both personal and political at the same time and because Cyprus has a lot of forbidden gardens: the other side of the divided country is a forbidden place and for many years there was no access to it. There is a personal reason as well: my grandfather had orchards in Peristerona which is on the southern part of the island and I have my childhood memories there. After 1974 this was a place further than the stars for me. There was no access, it was a dream garden. I always thought of this childhood garden with a lot of pain... Love is also a forbidden garden, so I thought the title “Forbidden Gardens” would represent my selected poems well since it’s an image with personal and political implications.
CL: But your book is a love story. It is about love.
NY: The book is composed of a selection from my several poetry books. And the love poems, you can read most of them as political poems as well. They make political allegories. I did not plan this though; I wrote a poem about love and people perceived it as a political poem. When they told me about this I was surprised because I was not intending to do that. But when I looked at my poems, I realized that this was the case. Because everything that happens between two persons, the relationship of the two, is a model for global issues. For example, one wants to dominate, the other rebels, there is jealousy, refusal, injustice between two people. This is also what’s happening between ethnic groups, it’s like what’s happening in the world. The relation of the two, the microcosmos is a model of the macrocosmos. Like Ingeborg Bachmann once said fascism starts between two people. A lot of things start between the two. So, when writing about the relation of the two, I was writing political allegories for many issues.
CL: But why love and not hate? It could have been a hate story…
NY: I have this aim to protect my innocence and this innocence you can actually find in love, because the world is so much polluted with evil… I want to keep this innocence and the girl child that I have inside, I want to keep that. I try not to judge immediately. There might be some missing information or misinformation. It’s very difficult to be just but I have a feeling of justice. When I see a clear injustice, I become a tigress though. Still I try to avoid hatred in my life because with hatred the victim transforms herself/ himself to a perpetrator quite easily. I hate to be a victim but I would prefer it to the role of the perpetrator. I do not accept defeat but I do not answer violence with counter violence. I have my creative ways to deal with these kinds of situations. I am not talking about naivety or pure love. You love something passionately because you hate the opposite. I do not want to pass to the domain of what I hate.
CL: Is it easy to write love poetry without being vulgar? There is a fine line separating the two.
NY: Vulgar or kitsch… It’s very, very difficult to write a love poem… Even the word “love” has become part of a popular jargon. And it’s quite interesting that my first poems were not about love. Usually people start writing their poems and they write about love, but I didn’t. I started writing at an early age but only later I started writing about love… And there is also the other line which, if you cross it, there are clichés. You can also write quite sophisticated love poems. I don’t construct poems. I am not an “engineer poet” When I write a poem, I just write it for myself. It is not artificial, it is real, organic, coming from inside. And I wrote a lot of poems that I didn’t keep. There is a Turkish poet who said “poetry is written with scissors”, so you have to always cut and not use everything you have written. But sometimes a poem is so ready inside me and, when I put it on paper, I don’t even work a lot on it. These are the best poems that I write, I think. I just write about love because I feel like writing it. For me love is a rebel. It’s where all the identities become unimportant. The class identity, ethnic identity, race, gender, age, etc. All these are unimportant for love. Two nations may declare war to each other but lovers from these nations just want to make love.
CL: There is a radical change of tone in the last part of the book and this is how the reader understands that what went before was an allegory. This part is particularly sharp and shocking, it’s about war.
NY: I’ll tell you what’s happening. I just told you that my first poems were not about love. My first poems are the last ones in this book. That’s how I constructed it, because I didn’t want the Greek reader to open the book and see my juvenile poems at the very beginning. They might seem a little naïve, but I like them, they have the innocence of my youth. I put them last in the order. I wrote them when I was 18-19 years old.
CL: So, the order is not chronological…
NY: The order is chronological, but the other way round, reverse.
CL: You know, I have also interviewed your brother Mehmet in 2016. In that interview he told me that you express the Cypriot identity. How do you believe you do that?
NY: Look, Cypriotness is not a national identity. It is a kind of affiliation with a land, which has natural borders. The borders of an island is the sea. Cypriotness is also a kind of hybridity. Being a Cypriot means you have inherited the heritage of a lot of different civilizations who passed from Cyprus: the Phoenicians, the Dorians, Venetians... and we inherited what they left on the island. This became part of our cultural identities and we learn historical lies, different things about the past of the island… So for me Cypriotness is a kind of affiliation with a geographical space which used to be the land of many cultures, not a national identity. Because national identities are identities that are put on us like uniforms. Because of national identities people kill each other, so I want to avoid this. For me Cypriotness is a hybrid identity and something I enjoy. I see the island as homeland, because homeland is your childhood actually, it’s your memories and I have memories there, but I don’t have this thing, because when you have an identity, you create another. I’ m not like this; for me my identity is not an issue that discriminates me from others, I’m not part of that world… that’s important. And I think that poets are another nation anyway.
CL: After all, you are “a runaway from the prison of identities” according to the interview to Cumhuriyet Kitap, published in the end of the book…
NY: Yes, I am an escapee from the prison of identities.
CL: In that interview you also say that poetry is a manly thing. Do you believe there is a deliberate male chauvinism in poetry?
NY: Of course. Men have seen poetry as their own domain and women as their muses, while men are the poets. You know this article “A room of her own” by Virginia Wolf, where she goes into the library and she looks at the shelves and there are so little women writers. She imagines that Shakespeare had a sister. And if Shakespeare had a sister as clever and as creative as Shakespeare, would she become a Shakespeare? She wouldn’t. And that’s what’s happening also in poetry. There are female poets who had to use pseudonyms or male names, otherwise they couldn’t exist. Emily Dickinson during her lifetime wasn’t known as a poet and then her sister found in her drawers all these poems and they are now some of the most important poems of American literature. So, as women we have to struggle to have our place in the literary canons, because women were excluded from them.
CL: There is a strong male voice in most literature anyway.
NY: Yes. It’s the Western model. I mean man the poet and his muse, the woman.
CL: So you started writing with the ambition to revise this?
NY: Because my father is a poet and he had this heroic voice and he put his poetry in the service of nationalism and he was very sexist at some points, my poetry was a rebellion to his poetry. I had this feminine, childlike voice, but I was of course very young, I was a child anyway.
CL: This heroic voice was a mark of older generations as well…
NY: I too had political issues in mind, but I was telling them in a feminine way, because men in politics think in terms of status. “This should go and this should stay” kind of thing, and they can never shake hands since they insist on political positions completely opposite of each other. But women’s thinking operates the other way: we operate at the level of needs, fears, concerns, traumas… You can see things from this point of view and then you can find another creative solution: stay, go or be together.
CL: Female writers have also been identified with a kind of low-quality literature about love…
NY: Many women avoid writing for the fear that they will be labeled for that. But I didn’t care at all. I never cared about being part of the male poets club and finding a place in there. I cared about writing poetry and doing it well, this is what I cared about. I just wanted to be different from them. And I am different. And my poetry reflects me. When I write, I don’t do it for a reader. First, I write for myself and then I say “oh this is good” and I put it aside to be published. You know which poem is a good poem, or not, and sometimes it may be something very personal and you may get confused, but most of the times, whey you are a poet, you know when a poem is good and you say “ok, I’ll put it in my book”. I throw a lot of poems away, you know. Writing about love would immediately put you in this box. I do not mind. I feel like writing about love and I do it. My poetry is quite erotic and brave in this sense. This makes me quite vulnerable and open to sexual harassment but I can not stop writing what I want to write because of fear.
CL: How would you describe yourself as a poet in a few words?
NY: Genuine, my poetry comes from my experience, my heart… it’s very genuine, organic.
CL: And you as a person, do you believe that you are optimistic?
NY: I’ll tell you. I write sad poems. But when you read a poem which is very sad, you feel good. You say, “oh this poet has experienced what I have experienced as well, the pain that I have experienced”, and it makes you happy. Sad poems make you happy, because you see the pain is there and also putting it there is a way of getting rid of it, of healing it.
CL: Which are your favorite Turkish poets?
NY: In my life, I can never decide which poet I prefer. I can never decide for my favorite. But I would say in my childhood I was a Nazim Hikmet fan. I mean he was for me a childhood discovery, he was a big thing in me. Later, of course, I read a lot of poets, but I cannot decide which one is my favorite. May be the reason I can not decide for my favorite is because I do not like to put anything in a hierarchical order.
CL: Are you related with Taner Baybars?
NY: Mehmet is related, because we have different mothers. I am not related to him, he is.
CL: Oh, ok. I hadn’t realized… Do you know any Greek poets?
NY: Of course. I like Cavafy a lot, Elytis, Seferis, Ritsos... but the contemporary ones, I can’t find any good translations of their work. I sometimes find their poems in English anthologies and read them, but I’d say I don’t have a really good idea of them, one I can really evaluate, because when you get an anthology sometimes you don’t know if it is really representative… I mean, it’s like you don’t know if it’s that poet’s friend and he put him there, this kind of things, so it’s a little difficult. But of course I follow the Greek Cypriot poets.
CL: Are you happy that you have been translated into Greek?
NY: Of course! And I’m also very happy with Angeliki Dimouli’s translations… Four or five other people have also translated my poems into Greek before, but I think that poets should translate poets. I showed all these translations to third people, as a test, to tell me which they thought was the best and everybody said that Angeliki’s was. What we did with Maria Sakali, who is also a poet who knows Turkish very well, an ex-student of mine, was to check everything, line by line, and when there were problems we told Angeliki and she changed her translation. She was very co-operative and immediately accepted the changes we proposed; that’s how we had this result. I am also happy that a young woman translated them. I was about her age when I wrote most of them. Otherwise, my poems being translated into Greek is something that should have happened much earlier.
CL: Have you been translated into other languages?
NY: Yes, I have been translated in a lot of languages, more then thirty: in anthologies or, when I go to festivals, there are books or magazines with my poems inside. But, as a personal book, I am translated into Bulgarian, Hebrew, of course English, but except English these books are still not published. Poetry publishers are spoilt by funding, because in every country there are funds to subsidize poetry books. And, for me, that’s a problem because I don’t know where I belong. You see, where you pay your taxes, that’s where your Ministry is, where from you should get your funding. I pay my taxes in the southern part of the island, because I work in Panepistimio Kyprou but, in order to be subsidized there, the original text should be in Greek. So, I am not covered. And on the other side of the island, because of my political position, they would never fund me… So this subsidy thing also works in a negative way, because the poets must be close to cultural bureaucrats, and some of those who are close are not even poets…
CL: There is a commercial side to poetry that poets often can’t follow. And maybe there should be organizations in place that could help them out with the practicalities…
NY: Yes, because there are these more noble poets and they are not translated because they are not into self-promotion, they are not preoccupied with such things. And it is a pity.
CL: In terms of literary schools, in which one do you belong?
NY: Poets like me are considered to fall under the “1974 generation” because, like with my brother, we started writing our poems and publishing books at the end of 1970s, but what happened in 1974, the division of the island, was something that determined us as a generation. On the other hand, my books are published in Turkey and they include me in anthologies. Because they are originally written in the Turkish language, it’s ok. But when I am translated e.g. into Bulgarian and people read my poems in magazines etc. they say “this is not a Turkish poet; she is European”. My poetry is lyrical, I care about the music. Abstract and concrete meet in my poems in a strange way.
CL: Would you give us a final comment instead of goodbye?
NY: I believe that with poetry you can reach other people, light a fire in their hearts. Poetry for me is like a living creature, it is like a child that you give birth to and then this child starts to have his or her own life and you don’t know where this child will travel, which people she will meet, what kind of interaction she will have with them… It’s a living creature, also in the sense of… like me, Neşe, some people will say she is a good person, I like her, some others will say no, I don’t like her, so poems are like that as well. They have their own lives and everybody has a different interpretation of them. Also, poetry multiplies. You write several lines and people interpret them in many different ways, so it’s a living thing. I am very happy that my poems are going to reach the Greek readers and I hope they have a good interaction with them.-