I met the poet Metin Cengiz in Istanbul. We were summoned by the International Festival of Poetry ‘Nazim Hikmet’ 2017. On the day of the inauguration, Metin came to greet me and gave me a selection of his poems in Spanish translated by the Valencian Jaime B. Rosa. I opened any page and found in his verses a very solid and genuine voice.
In the lobby of the cultural center Mustafa Saffet, located in the district of Ataşehir, we were three poets of spanish speech mixed with poets from different places of Turkey. As we surrounded the figure of Özdemir İnce, the night’s honored writer, I opened another random page of Metin’s book. By ratifying the soundness of his voice, I dared to confess my admiration and thanks for the gift.
Affected by jet lag that early morning, in my room on the seventh floor of the Silence Hotel on the anatolian side of Istanbul, I read all of his poems until i heard the muzeman’s call from some nearby minaret. In reviewing his biography I looked that he had already been invited to our International Poetry Festival in Medellín in 2012.
On the back cover of the book Selected Poems (2013) says that Metin Cengiz was born in Göle, Turkey in 1953. His poetic work has been awarded in his country and in the world. In 2011 he won the Tudor Arghezi International Poetry Prize. It has eight poems: After a Flood, (1988); The Great Love, (1980); The lily that flourished in its poison, (1991); For İpek, (1993); The Books of Songs, (1995); Youth Years, (1998); Hymns of Love and The Hüzzam compositions of today, (2005); Poems of freedom, (2008); And Images are my house, (2011).
For the last thirty years he has dedicated himself to singing and thinking poetry. As critic he has an extensive work based on the importance of the images in the poems. He has also studied poetry from topics such as sexuality, religion, modernism, socialism, philosophy, style and form.
I did not wait for the sunrise. I wrote to him at that hour to tell him that I wanted to interview him. I hoped that upon waking he read the message but Metin is an early riser. We chatted a little about his poetry, my poetry, and some advice. It was a spring morning in Istanbul, that day would cross the Bosphorus to the European side with the eagerness to meet the mosque of Sultan Ahmed in the company the Uruguayan poets Julio Pavanneti and Anabel Villar. We had breakfast at the hotel restaurant at eight-thirty. The poet was waiting for me with a smile: the smile of someone who found peace in the turbulence
Unconcerned with his good-natured appearance, Metin spoke of dishes and traditions while accompanying his breakfast with a Turkish tea and, of course, his inseparable raki.
Poet, editor, essayist, translator and journalist, Metin Cengiz, the author of beautiful poems like «Leaves of Autumn», «Baghdad» and «Rain» kindly agreed to answer some questions.
LOVE AND REVOLUTION
In your poems war and love as the most frequent themes. Does your poetry weigh more personally, collective or historical experience?
A book of mine was published in USA, San Francisco with the title “Poems for love and revolution.” I am known in my homeland as the poet of love and revolution. Revolution aims for a democratic system in which people, not cartels, decides its own fate. A system of principles and rights, not just a system of elections.
Why did you choose to be a poet and in what circumstances did you become a poet?
I didn’t choose to be a poet. Poetry chose me. I lived with poetry since I was a child. When I grew up I found myself to be a poet.
As to the circumstances… My family loved poetry, folk poetry and minstrel tradition. Later, by chance, I always end up with the teachers who had a taste for poetry. I learned the classics from them. . Fuzuli, Nedim, Şeyh Galip, Şeyhülislam Yahya . In high school I met with modern poetry: Yahya Kemal, Ahmet Haşim, Nâzım Hikmet, Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca, Cemal Süreya, Ahmed Arif. Thus, I was able to acquainted with the entire Turkish poetry tradition. Then I dwelled in oriental poetry, Tagor, Hafız, Ömer Hayyam.
Do you belong to a poetic tradition in your country?
My country has a very rich poetry tradition. I endeavored to embrace it as a whole. After 1980s I wrote poems focusing on poetics and images and I also theorized about such poetry. However, in terms of style and the structure of my poetry I am an outlander.
In what sense did Nazim Hikmet influence your poetry?
Nazım Hikmet is an universal poet. He has influenced poets throughout the world. Pablo Neruda once said that if he were to compose a one man anthology, it would be about Nazım Hikmet.
I was influenced by the unique sound of his poetry and his usage of images. Although the importance of sound is well known before him, the sound of his poetry echoes like a pistol. His is a vocal poetry. In my poetry sound cooperates with images.
His poems reflect a deep love for humanity. This love is also predominant in my own poems. Love and war are primary themes of my poetry. So we can say that, from Nazım to our day nothing has changed, unfortunately.
In some of your poems it is clear that you were in prison. How and why did it happen? Some lessons for life and poetry?
In 1980 a military coup happened in Turkey. Because of my leftist views I was arrested and sent to jail for two years and a half. I was an active member of a university student union. I was charged with attempting a Marxist revolution. In fact I was trialed with capital punishment but released after two years and a half.
In prison years I had the opportunity to reflex on socialist though. I believed that socialism offers a suitable perspective to criticize the system. However, I also thought that socialist ventured had their own problematic structures. My intimate interest to poetry and literature grow bigger in those years. Thus I gave myself to read poetry and literature.
Poems like «Other» feel your anguish for having been imprisoned. How did it impact on your psyche and your spirit to have been imprisoned and sentenced to death?
It did not affect my mood. However, it justified my hatred towards fascism and political systems of oppression and violence. People should not be charged because of their beliefs and political opinions. Torture and physical violence should be forbidden. I wrote the “Other” to emphasize these thoughts and to show that torture is extremely inhumane.
THE CRITIC AND THE POET
You have reflected extensively on poetry and the work of the poet. Is it possible to define poetry, differentiate its procedures and give it meaning?
Of course it is possible. Daily language is a discursive one. It leads us to a meaning. It depends on concepts and aims statement. Connotations and metaphors (poetic elements) aim essentially the same function. They are fundamentally informative. In such a communication, external reality lies at the base. Literal language, on the other hand, does not aim meaning. It tends to the communication itself rather than the external reality. Thus, it realizes a poetic function. This is a sensible function. However, this does not mean that poetic function does not lead us to the reality. It leads to another reality which is fictive and which is created solely by us.
What do you look for with poetry?
I look for the poetry itself. I want my songs to be acknowledged in all the languages. I trust in my work. I want people in sorrow and people in joy to read them so that they can feel life in a deeper dimension.
How the poet and the critic live in you?
Critic always fed my poet side. It enabled me to love other poets. It also protected me from bad poetry and from those who misused language. My poet identity completed my critical reason through its sensible richness.
When do you realize that a poem of yours is not working?
If a poem does not create a unified world, if my images do not reflect such a reality, if it does not make people think and feel such a reality then I take that poem to be immature. Of course, music and the harmony of the words are also important factors.
In the technical sense you worry about the images in your poetry, however, what do you try to leave in your poems?
I want to reach people, to affect them deeply, and to work up their feelings and thoughts in a higher form. I want to be remembered as a poet read by people.
Are there situations in your personal experience that you could not express through poetry?
Poetry covers what we experience as much as what we don’t. Poetry is not written solely with the power of imagery or imagination. Life itself is also a poem. A tremendous one. A master poet can reflect anything. You can express poetic with poems. However, one cannot write poetry with the daily language which aims its literal referent and meaning. However, there are other things which you can express solely with poetic language.
Your poems tell stories. How do you keep the balance in song and story?
Songs are products of feelings, images, and imagination. Tales are product of the desire for the rearrangement of life. Poetry, on the other hand, is the synthesis of both. A poet knows this intuitively.
What do you expect from your work as a poet?
I just want to complete some of my projects which I see indispensible for me.
POETRY OF THE WORLD
In most cases poets always come to sad times to write. How do you explain that despite the sadness the poet always maintains hope in life?
Thank you for these questions. They are good questions and they help me to speak. The sorrow of the poet is the sorrow of his age, his society. A poet cannot live a happy life if everybody else is unhappy. However, the saddest songs written In the saddest time carry a kernel of hope.
Which Spanish-American poets are close to their conception and practice of poetry?
Poetry in Spanish is quite rich. Spanish speaking world’s poetry is huge: Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Antonio Machado, Miguel de Unamuno, Antonio Vallejo, Federico García Lorca Rafael Alberti, Aleixandre Vicente.
As to the Latin Amnerican poets we can numerate: José Martí, Rubén Darío, Gabriela Mistral, César Vallejo, Jorge de Lima, Jorge Luis Borges, Nicolás Guillén, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Ernesto Cardenal, Otto René Castillo… These are the first names coming to my mind. There are many others.
How do you see poetry in other languages? Find points of contact with Turkish-language poetry?
Both languages have strong poetic history. They have very influential poets. I see that those poets keep their tradition alive. Turkey has a very active translation process. Many major poets from other languages are translated into Turkish, and still many other poets are being translated. Translation is the bridge among cultures.
How do you see the poetry written by young people in your country and in Europe?
I see that young poets are very eager for fame. They want to be at the top immediately and enjoy the image of being a poet. But there are also those who give the endeavor required by poetry.
What is your opinion of the festivals of poetry and literary encounters?
It is indispensible for maintaining the connection among different cultures and languages. No culture or poetry is pure. They are all hybrids. All the poets serve to all the languages of the earth and they produce a single language: the language of poetry.