Translating a poem from Turkish into English is a hard art, since the source language has wildly different grammar and syntax than the target language, and the poem loses the sounds and the multi-layered associations of its words in the source language. As the translator negotiates between the words, sounds, and pauses of the poem in two distinct languages, however, recreating a text in new clothes, the poem may gain a new force and musicality in its new outfit, in this case, English.
Translating Şirin Parkan’s poetry has been such a journey of mental bargaining for me. Her poetry rests on common Turkish words which she seems to reveal from a personal dictionary, with additional meanings that she herself has cultivated, impregnating them with a unique intensity.
Her style is deliberately fluid, with barely any punctuation. She often serves up pauses by line breaks, as if carrying her inner music and rhythm onto the page. She is breaking the standards and accessibility of everyday language to take us into her personal world as a mother, a daughter, a lover.
During translation, this was one of my major concerns: to transfer the alienness of her Turkish into the English language with the same effect. Hence in the poem titled “Mother,” despite the impulse to put an article in front of “oath,” “secret,” or “prettiness”, the words stand alone at the beginning of the lines – just like in Turkish. It is an intervention in English, from a Turkish source, that opens up the possibilities of language.
Interestingly, in translating the word “chest,” out of which the “oath” and “secret” come, the poem gains new resonance in English. In Turkish, the word signifies a chest of drawers or a box. But in English, the chest is also a body part, covering our hearts. In a highly personal poem about memories of family life and growing up, the word “chest” more than fits in, enriching the Turkish. A translator’s triumph, in fierce negotiation!
Şirin Parkan, born in 1971, has been writing poetry since her early school years, and she has published four books of poetry over the past ten years. Parkan writes poetry alongside her day job as a medical doctor in Istanbul, Turkey, where she works and teaches at the university. She is also a trained actress and performs with the Studio Actors group led by one of Turkey’s leading figures in theater. Parkan has a twenty-year-old daughter, and she is also mother to a six-year-old cat.
As a poet, she has a dense, brooding style, strong in visual imagery, melody, and rhythm. The visual aspects in her poetry show influences both from painting and theater as colors and a photographic sensibility. Her poetry is rich with unconscious cues that would provide fertile ground for psychoanalytic interpretation.
In addition to her four books, Parkan’s poems have been published in leading literary journals throughout Turkey, along with interviews and reviews.
Emre Azizlerli, originally from Istanbul, has been living and working in the UK as a journalist for more than twenty years. He holds a degree in French literature and likes to translate poetry for his own pleasure.