Nurduran Duman is a Turkish poet and editor born in Çanakkale and lives in Istanbul. Pursuing her passion for the sea, she attended Istanbul Technical University receiving her degree as an Ocean Engineer and a Naval Architect.
Her collection of poetry Yenilgi Oyunu (The Defeat Game) was awarded the 2005 Cemal Süreya Poetry Award. This award commemorates Cemal Süreya (1931-1990), one of the most important poets in Turkish Literature. In 2010 she published a book of narrative prose, İstanbul'la Bakışmak, Salacak (Exchanging Glances With Istanbul, Salacak). Her second collection of poetry Mi Bemol (Mi Bemol) was published in 2012. Duman also actively translated literature into Turkish. She translated Alma Alexander’s book The Secret of Jin-shei, published in Turkey in 2007. Her poems, translations (poems and stories), poetic articles, book reviews and interviews with foreign writers (e.g. Eileen Gunn, Karen Joy Fowler, Yiyun Li, Anna Tambour, Monica Arac de Nyeko, etc.) have been published in numerous magazines and newspapers. She has also translated the poems of Anne Sexton, Sara Teasdale, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Sylvia Plath.
Duman was elected as a board member of Writers Syndicate of Turkey and is an active member of Turkish PEN.
“Whoever I touch is wounded,” writes Turkish poet Nurduran Duman in the title of poem of Semi Circle, the first collection of her work translated into English. The poem is a kind of ars poetica—it takes the brokenness, the incompletion of the semi-circle as a figure for poetry itself. Duman’s poems characteristically occupy and produce semi-circles: spaces where the binaries that structure ordinary life—between violence and intimacy, sound and silence, body and world—break down. Throughout her work, Duman asks: is the job of the poet to complete the circle or to revel in its incompletion? Or is it both? Duman, cagey as she is, refuses to answer this question either way, but rather emphasizes the personal, bodily, cost of the question. Hers is a poetics of risk, a poetics that puts the self at risk, and sometimes sacrifices it, in order to discover what she calls the “lost line”—which might be the missing piece of a poem or the missing half of a semi circle. “To write that lost line,” she explains in “Semi Circle,” “…I passed inland seas of love / and so my one side always split.” The wound that her touch inflicts on the other returns to perjure the boundaries of her own body—and to confuse the distinctions between violence and intimacy, self and other.
At times her poems seem possessed by a self-mocking enthusiasm for such boundaries. As she writes in “Voiceword,” “I must be hidden / I have to hide everything, inside and outside / I tell my outside don’t come in!” But the act of making this boundary impeaches itself. She describes trying to build “a castle wall” with knitting needles: “I must go / from out to in knitting myself / from in to out.” The movement of the needle ruptures the border that it creates; the ambition to make such a border betrays its own impossibility. As if arguing against this ambition—with its accompanying paranoia—Duman invests her poems with lovely moments of crossing and confusion. “Pour Yourself from the Cup,” for example, begins,
Pour yourself from the cup
laying somewhere inside me
I tend toward dryness
flowers headed to death
Anyway I don’t want to be.
I love the way these lines locate the other inside the self, giving a physical reality to the cup and the ‘you’ that it contains. And I love the way these lines propose to surrender selfhood, making that surrender an ethical project: she gives up her own liquidity in order to secure life for the other. Similarly, in the opening of “Weave of colors,” a lover’s body dissolves into the world around it: “caught every morning in the lover’s hair, the sunset / circulates through its strands of red, of light.” Do the strands belong to the lover or to the sun? In the erotic plenitude of the moment, who cares? Duman concludes, in a hard won thesis statement for her own poetics: “everyone knows sharing is sacred.”
I hope these citations give some sense of the literary merit of Duman’s writing, which is consistently amphibious and unpredictable, swiveling between compressed bursts of syntactic disturbance and lyric clarity, between elegiac grace and off-hand humor. (One thinks of the bathos—and the pathos—in a line like, “Anyway I don’t want to be”). As a translator, Andrew Wessels is delicately attentive to the details of Duman’s poetics—the shifts in register, the way she uses punctuation, capitalization, and line breaks. Published in a beautiful bilingual edition, Semi Circle stages a confrontation or a crossing or a collaboration between the two languages. Indeed, part of the work of Wessel’s translation is to call into question the relationship between these languages, to interrogate the hierarchies and economies of prestige which structure international literary production and reception. (It matters, for instance, that the translations follow the originals, putting the English language where it belongs, in a position of subsequence, rather than imperial autonomy). But his translation does not explicitly or polemically settle these questions, establishing new hierarchies. Rather, it propagates border crossing and confusion. It creates a porous and permeable space in which poetry enacts continuous passage between languages and nations. In this sense, I think that Wessel’s work as a translator both extends and expands Duman’s poetics, which he tales up as a translation practice, as the aim of translation itself.
Written by Toby Altman
Semi Circle, collection / Yarım çember
we have our sky / bizim göğümüz var
To Miro’s words – in shapes, colors
in a dream, into another dream
a door opens, closes: a star
deep cut angles stitched down lightly
by an invisible needle on the folds of sky
we have our own sky
ships made of eyes, wings of eyelashes
in meeting glances, we take flight
we’re practising forms of laughter
life’s other defiancesTranslated by Aron Aji
Miro’nun şekilden boyadan sözcüklerine
düşün içinden öte bir düşe
açılır kapanır bir yıldız kapı
derinden biçilmiş, teyellenmiş hafifçe
görünmez iğneyle göğün eteğine
bizim bir göğümüz var
gözden gemilerimiz, kirpikten kanatlarımız
bir bakışmamızla bizim bir uçuşumuz
gülmenin biçimlerini çalışıyoruz
hayatın başka meydan okumalarını
Weave of colors / Renklerin Örgüsü
the lover every morning in its hair the sunset
circulates to its red fringes, to light’s
because every arrow came out from the dawn
evening is weaved from midday to joy
from sorrow to night… an opposite, a face
everyone knows sharing is sacred
if leaves and statements don’t decay, then death
is a green garden, its reward infinite
people evaporate from boiling water to the face of the sky
painting the sky blue so it rains
the person who plants the growing tree mixes himself with the infinite
there are people who love rain and also those who don’t know how to loveTranslated by Andrew Wessels
âşık her sabah saçlarında günbatımı
dolaşır saçaklarına kırmızının, ışığın
tan yerinden çıktı diye her ok
örülür akşam öğleden sevince
hüzünden geceye… bir ters bir yüz
herkes bilir ki paylaşmak kutsaldır
ölüm yeşil bir bahçe ödülü sonsuz
yaprak ve söz çürümesin tek
kaynar sulardan buharlaşıp göğün yüzüne
mavi çalanlar var, ki yağsın
ağaç diken de sonsuza karıp kendini
yağmuru seven de var bilmeyen de sevmeyi
lord / ağan
heavy time, we see
the spider walk between our hearts
setting the noose in its web
its signature the final knot
when we breathe again
the parts of us cut from the thread
will be insignificant
if while touching we snatch it briefly from the tinder
if it sees us drinking water
turning its head to leave
the time is a snakeTranslated by Andrew Wessels
ağır zaman. görüyoruz
kalplerimizin arasına yürüyen örümceği
ağına ilmek atışını
imzasını son düğüme
tekrar soluk aldığımızda
önemsiz kalacak iplikçiklerden
okşayıp bir an koparsak kavından
su içtiğimizi görse
çevirse başını gitse
wild horse / yılkı
i’m speaking alone
my half-ear rushed its hearing
the being’s forest isn’t there
i gathered three plains and then
by holding your hands I broke three rivers
and lifted three seas it’s arrival time
am I a soul train
am I a train now
did I become a train?
hold your problems to my bombardment
and let fly my rail but
i want you to pour my iron againTranslated by Andrew Wessels
yalın ağız konuşuyorum
koşturduğum yarım kulak
olmanın yok ormanı
üç ova topladım ardından
tutup kollarından üç ırmak kırdım
üç deniz kaldırdım varış saat
ben ruh tireni miyim
artık bir tiren miyim
oldum mu tiren?
tut uçur rayımı ama
demirimi gene sen dök
beni sen burgula
dreamplayer / hayalçalar
If I would open myself to the world. To laughter. To applause.
If I’d read a poem. If I’d prolong my tongue to distant countries
who would be the blank man if I sanded down his heart
If my brain’s gears would stop for a moment. If I’d brush.
If you would march off from my mind. Spontaneously.
You have a mind. Your feet. If you would give up somewhere.
If I’d fall from the language of the notebook, if I wouldn’t dream of you long,
if I wouldn’t be able to think where is the cat what curiosity
You. If you would push off from my memory from my heart.Translated by Andrew Wessels
Açılsam dünyaya. Gülüşe. Alkışa.
Şiir söylesem. Uzatsam dilimi uzak ülkelere
beyaz adam kim zımparalasam kalbini
Bir dursa beynimin dişlileri. Fırçalasam.
Sen aklımdan çıkıp gitsen. Kendiliğinden.
Aklın var. Ayakların. Bir yerde bıraksan.
Defterce düşsem uzun düşlemesem üstüne
düşünemez olsam kedi nerede merak ne
Sen. hatırdan gönülden çeksen gitsen.