In his 1961 introduction to Rae Dalven’s translations, W.H. Auden catalogued the poetic “conventions and devices” that Cavafy’s poetry fails to provide the English translator looking for equivalents: the imagery of metaphor and simile, a style or register of diction (English has “nothing comparable to the rivalry of demotic and purist” Greek, the mixture of which is the most characteristic aspect of Cavafy’s texture), ornament. Yet of the versions by several translators Auden had read, “every one of them was immediately recognizable as a poem by Cavafy; nobody else could have written it.” So what is it, he asks, that “survives translation and excites?” Auden’s answer was a tone of voice, one that “reveals a person with a unique perspective on the world.” Later, in his 2006 introduction to Aliki Barnstone’s translations, Gerald Stern amends this to a sensibility, a “tender humanism, a humanitas supreme.” Peter Bien had called it an attitude of “resignation,” understood not as despair but a kind of wisdom.
Poet, translator and essayist Murat Nemet-Nejat’s most recent work includes the poem The Spiritual Life of Replicants (Talisman House, 2011), the translation of the Turkish poet Seyhan Erozçelik’s Rosestrikes and Coffee Grinds (Talisman House, 2010), and the memoir/essay “Istanbul Noir” (in Istanbul: Metamorphoses in an Imperial City, Talisman House, 2011). Nemet-Nejat’s translation of the Turkish poet Birhan Keskin’s book Y’ol (Ro(a)de) will be published in 2012. He is currently working on “Things,” part VI of the seven-part poem, “The Structure of Escape,” of which The Spiritual Life of Replicants is part V.
On January 31, 2012, Murat visited the Kelly Writers House and read, in part, from The Spiritual Life of Replicants and spoke about the structure of “The Structure of Escape.” I recommend to readers of this commentary the audio and video recordings of that reading. After the event, I asked Murat if he would like to write for Jacket2 about his seven-part project, and he agreed. Here, below, is what he has written. — Al Filreis
A selection of poems and essays drawn from Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry edited by Murat Nemet-Nejat, published by Talisman House, New Jersey, and available through Small Press Distribution. “Thinking, speaking in Turkish is a peculiarly visceral activity, a record of thought emerging … Eda is the play of ideas through the body of Turkish. Not only is it the poetics of Turkish poetry in [the twentieth] century, it is the extension of the language itself, the flowering of its inherent potentials as a language. The otherness of Eda is the distance which separates Turkish from English.” Read the sample of poems [»»] here.
From left to right: George Economou, Murat Nemet-Nejat, Bob Perelman. See this 2009 interview with Nemet-Nejat conducted by Kent Johnson, published in Jacket issue 37. And listen to Nemet-Nejat’s six-minute reading at a program on “new European poets” in 2008: MP3.