Cemal Süreya


Have you ever had any moments when you wished to have met an individual no longer alive?  This desire seems to be visiting me often, and in particular, when poets, writers, and thinkers are concerned.  It happened again when I watched the following recording from the post-60s Turkish television archives:



By giving me a sweet surprise from his grave – his laid back wittiness, Cemal Süreya immediately appealed to me as my focus for this November Wednesday.  While live on television to talk on the state of literature in the country, the program host asks the poet the issue with the infamous misspelling of his last name.  (When spelled with double “y”, it mostly identifies a woman in Turkish.)  Süreya replies in polite indifference: “I lost a bet.  About twenty years ago.  Since I had two of them, I didn’t mind giving away one of the ‘ys’.”

I also wanted you to have a taste of one of Süreya’s perhaps most frequently cited poems, “Aşk” (Love) in its original language.  For that, I am resorting to yet another video recording, in which Bülent Yakut delivers an utterly successful reading:



As for the poem I have selected to translate for you from many of Cemal Süreya’s lyrical collections, it highlights a rare find as far as the subject matter.  The original version in Turkish appears first, as it has been my practice all this month:

Afrika dediğin bir garip kıta

El bilir alem bilir

Ki şekli bozulmasın diye Akdeniz’in

Hala eskisi gibi çizilir


An amazing continent, this Africa

Strangers know it the universe knows it

That it is drawn on maps

as it used to be

not to blemish the shape of Mediterranean Sea

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