Turkish Poetry Today
An interview with Lale Müldür (2007)
Lale Müldür (b. 1956) is a contemporary Turkish poet. An unusual ouevre and a unique oriental lyric sets her apart from her peers. Müldür is considered to be one of the most well read and influential Turkish poets today. After graduating from Robert College, Müldür went to study at Florence on a poetry scholarship. Later she returned to Turkey to study Electronics and Economics for one year each at Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi in Ankara. Müldür also pursued higher education in the UK earning first a BS in Economics from University of Manchester, and later a Masters in Sociology of literature from Essex University.Some of her noteworthy books of poems include Uzak Fırtına (1998), Voyıcır II(published with Ahmet Güntan, 1990), Seriler Kitabı (1991), Divanü Lûgat-it-Türk (1998), Saatler / Geyikler (2001), Ultra-zone'da Ultrason (2006).
Her poetry has been put to tune, sung and performed - "Destina" by Yeni Türkü being the most famous. Water Music, a selection of her poetry, was published recently in Ireland. Müldür's work inspired the French painter Colette Deblé. The interview was conducted in the summer of 2007 for the special issue of Kaurab's print mag No. 105 which was themed on The Language of Poetry.
AM:Your poetry seems to have a deep connection and coalescence with music. Do you often weigh the "sound" of words more than their "meaning" when you select them to construct your poems ? I mean to say does the sound structure of a word become more important than its meaning at times ?
LM:In my poetry sound structure and meaning is one and the same, because I think I write from a total spontaneity. It is automatic. I realize the importance of music as I first read it. From another angle, Brecht and Walter Benjamin going against Lukacs’ concept of internal consistency , they give importance to the bits and pieces, unbalanced and contradictory forms. In other words mimesis is out.
Frequently there is internal music in my poetry, which gets lost during translation. I attach special importance to the end of the poem. It can even be one broken line-my music.
AM: What was your first book of poems ? Describe to us the experience of writing your first book. How was it received in the Turkish poetry circles ?
LM: The name of my first book is Distant Storm. I wanted it to have 7 chapters. Accordingly I did this leaving out many of my much liked Marxist and English poems. Because I wanted my best poems to appear and reappaer in a consistent manner. Writing poetry for me began when I was 10 and for the next 30 years they have never stopped. It’s thematicaly interwoven and teleological. However, it took me a long time to publish my first book. At one point I was scared that it might not happen, but then finally it did. I became suffocated in the black arena of poetry.
I think it was a bestseller. Some of the poems became quite popular. Among these was Destina which was and still is a bestseller.Also La Luna was composed and was made into a popular film, at least a part of it. My English poems were used as an exotica. Natasha Atlas wanted one as well, but I couldn’t send her one. Many children in Turkey carry the name Destina now...
AM: Historically Turkish culture, like its geography, has had influences evenly from the east as well as the west. But how well or widely do you think, is Turkish poetry received in the West ? Don’t you think that the west often tends to completely miss out on the spirituality of oriental poetry, even when it is experimental ?
LM: So that’s it...coming to the old problems. They (the West) don’t even know that Turkish poetry exists. And that it is older than theirs- written through thousands of years. There is the miraculous work of Goethe through Divan and few other books. The problematics of this would would need much more space than we have here. I think Turkish poetry can engross the media as a whole like Latin literature, but one cannot forget the success of Hafýz or Rabindranath Tagore. Nor can we forget the success of Upanishads and Bhagavat Gita along
with Orhan Pamuk and Nazým Hikmet. Especially now, when they ask for easy books to translate. You see, everything is controlled by money today. I’m also the first poet to study South-North relationship. I should say that our readers, in their collective subconscious, bear the grains of poetry throughout history.
AM: What is the state of the lyric in Turkish poetry now ? Are there traditional lyrical forms that are practised/improvised ? Could you give a little historical sketch of how lyric poetry might have transformed in Turkey since Hikmet ?
LM: The status of Turkish lyrical poetry is grave at the moment. Lyrically, we don’t count even as much as a TV program. I could say that it’s going to die out if nothing is done. Improvised ? no, practised yes, a little, but yes. After Nazým Hikmet there was basically what we call the Second New Generation - poets like Ece Ayhan who was an idol, writing those strange poems during the 50’s. Out of the Second New Generation Ýlhan Berk is still alive and continues to write beautifully. After them, my contemporaries have had some success. And now it’s one great boom and everything is dead.
AM: How important is gender-identity in your poetry ? Are there particular hindrances you have faced as a female poet at any point in your literary career ?
LM: The gender identity is important in my poetry. I feel it’s a loss for poetry not to have ‘he,she,it’. One can play many games with it. Though people think that my poetry is genderless and it pleases me to think of it that way because I believe that’s the only way to write. If you say immediately a certain poem is written by a man, that would not be great poetry either. Yes definitely I could become much more important in Turkey, if I were a man.
AM: From a style-angle your poetry is referred to as "the poetry of motion". Would you like to explain...
LM: Yes, I think it’s that my poetry could be considered as ‘a poetry of motion’ as Murat Nemet Nejat argues. Here is an example -
‘but this can’t be
A yellow bulb
On the head
In the eyes
Cooling it down
In the middle of spaces
Slowslowslow water yellow patience
Everything for a rose from Damascus
This is part of a poem where you can see everything in my poetry - ‘movesrests’ at the same time.
AM: What role does poetry play in the Turkish public life today ? Has the role changed much during your literary career. If so, why ?
LM: There seems to be a lesser number of poets in the new generation. Because of FISCALITY, there is almost no role left for poetry today. In my youth it was adored by everyone. Though there are many ‘poets’, but no one reads the other. I could say that poetry issues revolve around Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze etc. but without really understanding them. The thing that ties together people is money, not poetry.
AM: I understand that Turkish is an agglutinative language. What advantage/disadvantage(s) do you think that brings to the poet compared to languages that are not ?
LM: By the way, I must say how much I adore Von Humbolt’s work. The agglutinativeness - that is always an advantage for poets in Turkey. You can say a lot in a single verb. We can say a lot in a tiny line. Multiple meanings also create grand poetry.