Selling Nigerian poets in Turkish market


Selling Nigerian poets in Turkish market


Tuesday, 25 Jan 2011, The Punc Newspaper- Nigeria 

Apart from translating works of Nigerian poets into Turkish, Ilas Tunc is exposing them via various platforms in the European country, writes AKEEM LASISIOften, it takes a person watching from a distance to better appreciate how delicious boiled esuru yam and fresh palm oil is. As he watches the person eating it soak his hand in the oil and stylishly dip the drenched yam in his mouth, the observer feels the sweetness far more vividly than the lucky one doing the eating.

The Yoruba proverb seems to capture the experience that Turkish writer and translator, Ilyas Tunc, has had with modern written poetry in Nigeria. Apart from his interest in exploring works from other countries, and noting how African poets are responding to the socio-political challenges confronting the continent, an encounter he had with poet and critic, Odia Ofeimun, at Poetry Africa festival, held in Durban, South Africa in 2009 boosted his desire to closely study works of Nigerian poets.

About five years in the wilderness, Tunc now boasts a dependable picture of how the minds of old and new generation poets such as Gabriel Okara, Christopher Okigbo, Niyi Osundare, Ezenwa Ohaeto and Ogaga Ifowodo worked when producing some of the volumes that largely define the market. He professes he has learnt a lot about the written word from the country that gave Africa its first Nobel laureate. But, incidentally, his most memorable verses appear to have come from a writer who is predominantly a novelist – Chinua Achebe.

“Chinua Achebe’s Vultures is one of the poems I admire most in Nigerian poetry,” Tunc says in an online interview with our correspondent. “Here, the poet draws an unpleasant description of a pair of vultures who touch each other lovingly in their nest after feeding on a corpse. Not only does this poem show that love can exist in places someone wouldn’t have thought possible, but also that a concentration camp commander, in contrast with his cruelty, can share his affection with his family at home. Actually, there are many poems that lead me to the immense beauty of Nigerian poetry. They include Adumaradan by Niyi Osundare; Cold Earth by Odia Ofeimun; The Minstrel with a Postcolonial Goatskin Bag by Ezenwa Ohaeto; Iva Valley by Ifi Amadiume; Sequence (Of desire) by Jumoke Verissimo and Homeland by Ogaga Ifowodo.”In the last two years, he has translated works of 40 Nigerian poets. He hopes to publish the translation in an anthology once he captures about 10 more. He has published some of the translated items in Turkish magazines.

Tunc notes, “I started my translation work with the leading poets such as Christopher Okigbo, Gabriel Okara, Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri, Ofeimun, Niyi Osundare, J.P Clark, Tanure Ojaide and Harry Garuba. These poets made a good impression on Turkish readers. Surely, I say that a large group of readers who look forward to reading the poems by Nigerian poets has appeared in Turkey.

“There are many poets who I’m working on nowadays. Some of them are Femi Fatoba, Femi Osofisan, Ogaga Ifowodo, Maik Nwosu, Unoma Azuah, Remi Raji, Sola Osofisan and Promise Okekwe. Being a modernist poet, that is to say, writing in western style, is a prerequisite for being included in my work. Secondly, being born after 1921 is another criterion. Being a published poet, getting an incredible poetry prize, and positive comments on their poetry in literary magazines are my other parameters. I also make much of the impression of the oral tradition on modern Nigerian poetry. As for the selection of the poems to be translated, it is my own preference or liking among the ones which I read.”

Reluctantly attempting a comparison between Nigerian and Turkish poetry, he explains that nature is the most preferred theme in African poetry. There is a vast number of poems thematically concerned with rivers, valleys, mountains etc. Religious ceremonies and rituals are also recurrent. Some African poets perform their poems in a theatrical way on the scene, which is called performance poetry. But reading poems in public in Turkey isn’t as common as in Africa.

In this point, we can say that Turkish poetry is more individual than African poetry. Also, Turkish poets of today use words in ‘emotional associations,’ and write more abstractly than the poets in Africa.

And it is this observation that he premises his suggestion for thematic diversification on the part of Nigerian poets.

“I’m not a critic, so I may go wrong,” he says. “From my perspective, Nigerian poetry of today is narrative, but needs being more inventive and individual. Thematically, the poet inside mostly prefers the love of country and nature, while the poet abroad writes the political and social ills of today. In fact, everything can be material for poetry. But the poet should write about loneliness, famine, friendship, sex, poverty, loyalty, madness, drunkenness, freedom and jealousy too.”

Tunc began writing in the 1970s, with his first poems published in a literary magazine called Yeni Defne in 1977. But then followed a long silence that he eventually broke in 1992 when he published his first collection of poems, Kis Bir Alkis Mydi (The Last Applause in Winter). The poet who has earned several awards that include the Ali Riza Ertan Poetry Award and Ceyhun Atuf Kansu Poetry Award is now widely published. Some of his poems have been translated into English, French and Afrikaans language.

Tunc’s other published collections include Kül ve Kopus (Ash and Ending), Fetus Günlügü (Diary of a Foetus), Sesler Incelikler (We Spoke of Sand) and Karnaval (Carnival), which was published last year.

And what usually inspires Tunc? “The poet must stretch all the feelers towards the nature and the society,” he explains. “He or she must be aware of the happenings all around, and look for the sources of inspiration for his poetry. If you’re not a good observer, you can’t be a good poet.

Realising something you never know before can lead you to write a new poem. I don’t believe that inspiration is a heavenly power. Everything occurs in our brain. Actually, you can write the poem of the thing you focus on. What stirs you mentally, socially, and economically will certainly inspire you.

Writing poems is releasing the poet of the state which disturbs him or her. In a sense, it is a kind of catharsis. So, the poet should often listen to his inner voice. If inevitably spoken of an inspiration, life is the most indispensable material for my creative activity of writing.”

His intimate engagement of Nigerian poetry, he believes, is likely to positively affect his writings in in future, because, according to him, a good poem should be a source of inspiration for writing another one.