Keyla Cavdar on translating Nâzım Hikmet

Keyla Cavdar

on translating Nâzım Hikmet

When translating Hikmet’s “Story of a Separation,” one of the things I had to work around was the fragmentation of Hikmet’s language. In a sense, the visual poetry he creates is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams, in that it guides the reader into a specific way of reading. It was very important to me to keep his method of writing and figure out a way to make it cohere in English; his lack of punctuation creates a difficulty, as it’s not as possible in English to establish Hikmet’s poetic method while also remaining coherent. In the spaces that we would expect punctuation, Hikmet disregards grammatical conventions and moves according to sound. I hope I was able to pass on his intention and the subtle changes in tone without moving too far away from the original.

about the author

Nâzım Hikmet (1902–1963) was a Turkish poet, playwright, and revolutionary figure. He is considered Turkey’s first modern poet and was influenced by the Russian Futurist movement. Hikmet was jailed in Turkey for long periods of time for writing what the government claimed was revolutionary poetry. In 1950, Hikmet started a hunger strike protesting the Turkish government’s failure to include an amnesty law in its agenda. Later that year, Hikmet received the International Peace Prize. After his final release from prison, Hikmet moved to the Soviet Union. He continues to be revered by Turkish youth as the voice of revolution.

about the translator

Keyla Cavdar is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying English and fine arts. She was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, and moved to Philadelphia in 2014. She was reintroduced to revolutionary Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet in a translation class last spring, and his work made it possible for her to understand not only the current political climate in Turkey, but also the implications of losing one’s country and language. Translation enabled her to dwell in the space between her mother tongue, Turkish, and her second language, English.

photo by a DoubleSpeak staffer