Nigerian poets find their voice in Turkish


Nigerian poets find their voice in Turkish

By Jumoke Verissimo

September 12, 2010 04:39AM

The first contact I had with Ilyas Tunc was on the Internet. There was an email from him and I replied, wondering how and where he got my email address. Nevertheless, as time went on, we developed a friendship that has grown into an exchange of emails of him wanting to know more about Nigerian poets and me asking about his interest. His passion is consistent and pertinacious.

I remember him asking me about Odia Ofeimun, only for them to meet at the Poetry Africa festival in South Africa later that year. The poet was at hand to help Tunc with his translation works, informing and educating him on Nigerian poetry.

While there are different translators across the world and they choose that which pleases them for translation, it is indeed a great pleasure to know that Ilyas Tunc, for the love of poetry, seeks to introduce Nigerian poets to an audience they may never even meet.

Tunc has released six poetry collections and these will be published in a single book soon.

Introducing the man

Ilyas Tunc is a Turkish poet. He was born in Ordu, a city on the Black Sea coast of Anatolia, in 1956. He lives in Sinop, where Diogenes of Sinope, a famous cynic philosopher, was born. “Whoever is interested in philosophy knows what he said to Alexander the Great when he asked if there was any favour he might do for him: “Stand out of my sunlight!”

He taught English in primary and secondary schools until he retired on a pension in 2007. His mother tongue is Turkish, and he speaks English as a foreign language. But for him there is more to language, as “all poets speak the language of imagination which has no words and sounds.”

On the translation project

Tunc has been translating Nigerian poetry into Turkish for a few years now. He presents his translated poems to poetry lovers in a weekly book magazine, which is delivered as a free supplement of a newspaper. Only one page of the supplement is assigned for poetry translation, and the translators send their translation works to the editor of the page voluntarily. He does not receive money from doing this. His intention is to give the Nigerian poet a place in the minds of lovers of poetry in Turkish language. His sole inspiration and driver is to enable Turkish readers to meet Nigerian poetry through his translations.

The editor of the magazine he publishes, the poet in does not ask for particular poet or poems. The idea is that every week, people can read the poems of a poet from a different country. This is something that is common in Turkey; there are a few other magazines that publish translated poems.

The pain and joy of translating Nigerian poets into Turkish

Tunc says, “Poetry translation is not only to translate a poem into a target language, but also it should reflect traditions, religions, mythologies, social and economic conditions of a country.” In essence, he encountered certain concepts and words which defined these things in the process of translation. Some of these words, though familiar to the Nigerian audience are largely new to him. Words like “idoto, adhiambo, abiku, harmattan, agbor dance, eyo carnaval, Ken Sero Wiwa, jangaweed, egbesu boys, aso-oke, etc…” One cultural aspect he found interesting is what he calls, “the cult of Abiku,” which he says, the Turkish Audience met for the first time in his translation.

Sadly, he found there are few anthologies, widely available on the international market on contemporary Nigerian poetry in English. For example, he could not find Toyin Adewale (ed.) 25 Nigerian Poets. And at first this was a challenge, as he did not how and whom to start with. The poems were inadequate and the biographies he got, mostly via the Internet, did not seem representative enough. He got his inspiration from magazines like; Sentinel Poetry, African Writer, and some other web pages. A number of poets were also willing to help him, some going the length of sending their collections, poems and biographies by email. In cases where he was hindered by translation problem, the poets were always willing to help.

The effect and future of the translation project

Tunc has been working on Nigerian poetry for two years. He is not supported by any financial institution, yet he has translated over 30 Nigerian poets, the writer of this piece included. For him, it is solely a personal interest. The translator and poet is looking forward to a time when he can bring 50 poets together in an anthology published in Turkish language.

The publicity gathered from the weekly translation has shown from a wide spectrum of Turkish poetry lovers, what he defines as “the richness and emotional capacity of Nigerian poetry through my translations.”

From the comments he has received from his readers in Turkey, he has been very encouraged. “They say Nigerian poetry is as fascinating as Nigerian fiction and drama,” he says. At the end of every translation he leaves footnotes, to enable them to get some knowledge about Nigerian culture. So he has introduced them to words like, “iremoje, Idoto, agbada, iroko tree, Agbor dance, etc.” He hopes that, “these fragments can drive the Turkish people to a search for Nigerian culture and history more deeply.” He believes the poems will bring Turkish and Nigerian people closer together.

Nigerian Poets of interest

When he began his translation work, he was impressed by these poems and poets, ‘Once Upon a Time’, ‘Piano and Drums’ by Gabriel Okara, ‘Vultures’ by Chinua Achebe, ‘Heavensgate’ by Christopher Okigbo, ‘Civilian and Soldier’, ‘Telephone Conversation’ by Wole Soyinka.

In the post-colonial era, he explored Niyi Osundare, Onwuchekwa Jemie, and Femi Fatoba. In his words, “Niyi Osundare’s poem titled Adumaradan, which means beautiful black woman in the Yoruba language, swept me off my feet while I was brought to my senses by his Not my Business, a political one.” As for the poetry of today in Nigeria, it is shining with the lines of Odia Ofeimun, Harry Garuba, Maik Nwosu, Lola Shoneyin, Toyin Adewale, Jumoke Verissimo, Obi Nwakanma, Tolu Ogunlesi, Ogaga Ifowodo… Except for these poets, there are many poets who interest me. I’m sorry for the poets whose names I haven’t uttered here.”

Nigerian writers famous in Turkey

There are a few Nigerian poets that are known in Turkey. Tunc says, “These three giants of Nigerian literature are known all over the world: Wole Soyinka as a playwright, Chinua Achebe as a fiction writer, and Christopher Okigbo as a poet.” He believes that, “Nigeria is a candidate country which will bring new giants onto the scene of the world literature. For instance; Turkish readers have already met zChimamanda Ngozi Adichie from a younger generation with ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’; and Toyin Adewale-Gabriel.

The best part of translating Nigerian poems

Tunc describes translation as an “intercultural service, and an invisible contribution to universal peace.” In this regard it is important that people should learn how to live together in different cultures, traditions, religions, languages, and races. That, he maintains, is what art teaches us. He is appreciative of the encouragement and response he received and says, “In the meantime, I should say I have made so many Nigerian friends through emails and via facebook. I hope I’ll have the chance to speak with them face to face one day.”

Is any other African country up for translation?

Yes! Tunc explains he just finished with the anthology of South African poetry, which was completed last year. Once, he is done with Nigerian poetry he is going on to publishing an anthology that will contain the important poets from the continent of Africa.

Next Newspaper, Nigeria

Thursday September 16, 2010