Burcu Sahin was born in 1993 and resides in Rinkeby, Stockholm. Her debut poetry collection Broderier (“Embroideries”) was published in 2018 by Sweden’s largest publishing house Albert Bonniers. The collection was awarded that year’s Katapult debut prize by Sweden’s Writers’ Union. In the same year Sahin’s chapbook “Älskade syskon” (“Beloved Siblings”) was part of the Nordic poetics series Autor Chap. Sahin has studied creative writing at Biskops-Arnö, and is now a teacher at the same school. In 2020 her translation of Gloria Anzaldúa’s essay Speaking in Tongues will be published at Modernista.
This introduction starts with a weaver weaving her web at day, and it ends with her tearing it up at night. This scene is familiar to anybody knowing ancient Greek literature: It is Odysseus’ wife Penelope weaving and tearing, as a way of not accepting any of the suitors, and instead waiting until Odysseus returns home from the Trojan war. The poet Burcu Sahin reinvokes the scene in her chapbook “Älskade syskon” (“Beloved siblings”), published in the poetics series Autor Chap in 2018. She specifies that the work is done with a thin thread and that the weaver sings something that sounds like a battle song, although sad. The song becomes integrated in the warp.
Sahin’s debut poetry collection Broderier (“Embroideries”) could be summarized with that very same scene, although the main topic here is not the web, but another textile, as the title indicates: embroideries. The first words of the book are “No Mothers Cry Here Anymore”, and the first poem guides the reader into a dream (or is it a sad battle song?) where ”the law was on our side [...] songs of praise were sung in our names [...] we were someplace else / by a beach where the seashells were not cracked”. Within this dream the phrase “no mothers cry here anymore” is repeated as the final line of the poem. In this way Sahin shows at the same time both what has been, what is and what could possibly be. Even if no mothers cry anymore, the tears from the former weeping are still palpable. And, as Sahin notes later in Broderier, mothers are also daughters.
The daughters and mothers, as well as grandmothers and other family members, of Broderier most likely live in the next part of the collection, which is called “Asfalten” (“The Asphalt”). They are surrounded by and surrounding garbage, verdant avenues, kitchen tables, and seagulls above balconies. In one short poem
the buildings resemble concrete blocks
cement bodies stiffen
the asphalt a place to take root
The poem grows on me every time I read it. It starts with an almost unbearable heaviness; buildings resembling concrete blocks, and bodies just as stiff as the buildings and the cement. But in the final phrase everything is turned upside down; this is not a place where things end, but a place to start anew. Or in other words: a place for a home.
A friend of mine collects old embroideries. She buys them second hand, and decorates the walls in her home with them. They say things like “Home sweet home”, “A house is made of brick and stone – a home is made of love alone”, and ”God bless our home”. The embroideries recall on one hand the tireless handicraft of women, and on the other hand a time where home, and home only, was women’s place to be.
Burcu Sahin complicates this image further. In the essay “Tyst text” (“Silent Text”) in the magazine Ord & Bild no. 3–4 2019 she traces her mother’s and grandmother’s needlework as a way to tell history and memories: “My grandmother and my mother worked as seamstresses in the home long before I was born. They worked during the night and into the dawn, slept a few hours, and then continued the day by taking care of cooking and cleaning.” The storytelling on the same theme is even more effective in Broderier: “work work / withstand”, “there is always something to repair”, “the hands’ memory is inherited / gold stitches cotton towels / stories around a kitchen table”.
In “Tyst text” Sahin tells about how her mother, when she migrated to Sweden, took a few of these half-finished embroideries with her. Sahin asks: “What does a person bring when she moves from one place to the other? Who does really care about embroideries, woven carpets and thin threads?” The things her mother brought had a meaning and presence “so tightly bound to the feeling of being at home that they would make any place knowable.” The close connection between embroideries and home continue to emerge. However, as Sahin notes, many people who migrate are not allowed to bring neither their bodies nor possessions.
Sahin further describes how she realised that the needlework of her mother and grandmother was a source of knowledge, that the stitches and patterns were possible to decipher: “I started to imagine a language that could be felt, fibers and fingertips, away from the spoken and written.” In Broderier the grandmother turns the fabric and says “this is the indecipherable back side”, and in “Älskade syskon” one can read: “My grandmother does not understand the language I write in and I can’t translate. Instead I invent a place in the poem where we can be together.” This creation – or is it a discovery? – of a different kind of language also have implications for Broderier as a whole.
The beginning is setting the scene in a suburb and by the kitchen table, introducing daughters, mothers and grandmothers as main characters, and establishing embroideries as the main topic, but as the collection proceedes it digs deeper and deeper into the language of the embroidery. How is a poetry of embroidery written? How does it sound? Who is it directed at? Some songs in Broderier are sung in languages we don’t understand, and some in languages we do understand; some words are tracked by hyphens: “I walk through the s-t-i-t-c-h-i-n-g”, “p-e-a-r-l”, “t-h-r-e-a-d”, “s-e-a-m-l-e-s-s”; and some poems almost seem like they are lullabying themselves: “weave in weave // tie the knot well // in embroidery // tie the knot up”.
Although Sahin never uses the “x” from the cross stitching as a means to her poetic language, I can’t stop thinking about it when I read her oeuvre. It’s a sign that could mark a yes, as well as a no, but also the unknown. In urban English the x stands for a kiss, and every cross in an embroidery could be representing a kiss in a letter, and if I were to write this introduction again I would write about how the embroidery in Sahin’s poetry and essays always also constitutes a letter,
The quotations from Broderier are translated by Jennifer Hayashida. All other translations are made by me.