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Every Poet’s Fate Is Sealed By A Stroke Of Their Pen by küçük İskender

Aug 6, 2022 | Poetry | 2 comments

From his initial years, küçük İskender was hailed as a poet who, by rebelling against the settled norms and forms of poetry, disregarded the boundaries that traditionally mark off different genres of writing. The poem published here is the first poem in his first book, Gözlerim Yüzüme Sığmıyor (My Eyes Don’t Fit On My Face). In this poem, we find many of the themes he was to develop over the next three decades and we first hear the voice that was to mark everything he wrote until his passing in 2019. 

Translated from the Turkish by Gonca Özmen & Neil P. Doherty
Every poet’s fate is sealed by a stroke of their pen!  

Before you hang me, tell me about those birds I don’t know
tell me about those motionless, impish-eyed birds
about their infumed feathers… their forbidden Alevi wing beats
and if necessary teach me to fly
or to die with honor like the flying birds…

I hope you don’t execute my high school notebooks
my university ID card… my friends, my bus pass
I hope you don’t slay virtue… you don’t maul
that… that sweet, meek, smart-ass kid!

I was born in this city, don’t know any other
I grew up in Beşiktaş, all doubled over/ I lurked on the ferries
The circus girls, my lovely one, they rubbed their scents over my neck, and yes,
the maiden’s tower did too
Ah well, the follies of youth
I spidered the years on a spindle…

So where were we
let’s weep for ourselves there
from Burgaz a corpse wind blows/ the islands laid out like a cutlery set
psychic thoughts crowd round me, rooms that spin in longing
                                                like dervishes whirling
windows- from my childhood always left open
kitchen fronts… dining tables… those breathless halls
the bread is stale, the salt damp, the pots frozen
well that’s life… the blue eyes of a white corpse the Bosphorus
the Galata Tower a lookout like a bull’s tongue, a nest of snakes at its feet
“Brother, a slice of dry bread, that’s all…”
“Don’t believe them my jacket, just don’t”, the bastards repeat the same lie every spring!… 

And a telephone call. “Hello, mam, yeah I’m fine, really I’m fine,
how are you, don’t worry too much, you’ll give birth once again
raise the child once again, they’ll be hanged once again
every poet’s fate is sealed by a stroke of their pen
Say hello to my father too…tell him I saw him in my dream
his arthritis pains will ease off towards winter…

I know mam, I know, if I keep going on like this
you’ll end up in a state, but sadly my tongue just never stops and
if you’re really asking, I haven’t been well since last night…”

So where were we
let’s weep for ourselves there
from Kafka, I learned that life can shift shape
and from Sait Faik that even the funerals of this city are so grand
I combed my existence in the hair of each new woman
for centuries I searched for that kid goat lover of mine in every place
in every paragraph
my poetry was the blond load that refused to fall off my back…
I donated my sperm to words/ when I die I’ll find a rhyme for love
and above all, there’s being meaningful you know… meaningful
multiplying like that noose folded up under meaning, like cracked dough
then spilling over into water, into sin, into depth, into ancestry
and up to god’s knees where the command for every passionate
quarrel begins! 

I woke up one Monday
all kinds of joy there by my bed
and the lights dangling from the sky were the deepest blue
the steam rising from the earth was the deepest blue
and so too was the sun and those children bustling
                                         in the sun…
But down in the swamps of my sometimes dew-covered soul
Were the herds of my never-ending tiredness! 

I studied, if you call it that
we grew into men on the milkless breasts of death
what then is that rope they say will leave me bereft and alone
is it the eyelash of azrael
or the uncircumcised penis of the devil…
What is it makes it so sublime, so strange!…
Certainly in every season, one must leave to make way for others
My brothers! Before too long you must choose the season when you’ll leave!…

So where were we
let’s weep for ourselves there
our house lies under the gallows tree silence of a narrow street
made of wood, a buddy to all the passing, lying clouds
in the brush of a painter: my mother’s head leaning out the window
the dull old age of my father as he crosses the threshold
in mirrors my sister giving the first flush of her youth to her cheeks
my older brother at work, you know that deceit of a handful of pennies…

That gap between death and life
is only just a fragment of war
‘cause really, how many kilometers was my life/ how many liters of air
did I suck into my lungs
and how many liters of tears did I shed
what was the surface area of my face
the currency of my feelings, the flag of my thoughts
what was the religion of my heart/ the regime of my body!

a religious teaching evoking the sound of a mortal fox fleeting
or the fellowship of the thousand gulls after my coffin screeching

before you hang me
tell me about those birds, those birds I don’t know tell me
then, if you want, you can hang me forty times in a row
and throw my corpse down into the dark nakedness of a well

Fear and death and suffering
are the pangs that ready us for a new birth
but just don’t you forget my love
the gallows tree is the only tree that bears no fruit!…

Also Read:

Sunoco Church and Other Poems— Morgan Boyer

Instead of Turtles All the Way Down and Other Poems— Ace Boggess

küçük İskender (Derman İskender Över) [1964-2019] was one of the most prolific and acclaimed poets of his generation. In a writing career that spanned over 30 years, he published many books, and while most of these were volumes of poetry, he also produced a wide range of other texts including journals, novels, and criticism. 

Gonca Özmen was born in Burdur, Southern Turkey in 1982. She studied English Language and Literature at the University of Istanbul, finishing her master’s degree in 2004. Subsequently, she was awarded a Ph.D. in 2016. She has published three books of poetry and many essays and critical articles on both Turkish and world poetry. In 2011 Shearsman published a selection from her first two books entitled “The Sea Within” translated by George Messo. Her second book “Belki Sessiz” “Perhaps Silent”) was translated into German by Monika Carbe and was published as “Vielleicht Lautlos” by Elif Verlag in September 2017. She has also won many awards for her poetry since she first began publishing.

Neil P. Doherty is a translator born in Dublin, Ireland in 1972 who has resided in Istanbul since 1995. He currently teaches at Bilgi University. He is a freelance translator of both Turkish and Irish poetry. In 2017 he edited Turkish Poetry Today, which was published in the U.K by Red Hand Books. His translations have appeared in Poetry Wales, The Dreaming Machine, The Honest Ulsterman, Turkish Poetry Today, Arter (İstanbul), Advaitam Speaks, The Seattle Star, The Enchanting Verses, and The Berlin Quarterly.


  1. Filip de Búrca

    Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chapaill.

  2. Filip de Búrca

    go raibh míle maith agat, a Chapaill


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