Category Archives: Travels


Turkish Poetry Today 2014OUT NOW! Turkish Poetry Today 2014, with stunning poetry by Güven Turan, Asaf Hâlet Çelebi, Melih Cevdet Anday, Lâle Müldür, Sami Baydar, and Bedri Rahmi Eyuboğlu. Among the translators: Ruth Christie, Murat Nemet-Nejat, Mevlüt Ceylan, and Clifford Endres. A one-of-a-kind bilingual journal of modern and contemporary Turkish poetry edited annually by George Messo, Şenol Bezci, T. Kenny Fountain, and Fahri Öz. Order your copy now, from over 100 online bookstores worldwide.

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Filed under Poetry of the Middle East, Travels, Turkish Poetry, World Literature

2012 Top Books

In the relative cool of an Arabian winter, it’s easy to forget the terror of 50 degree afternoons when you need an oxygen bag and a strap-on fridge to walk five yards in the shade. Looking back over 2012 I’m happy to misremember sitting out in the garden with a dripping copy of Lars Gustafsson’s The Stillness of the World before Bach, desperately thumbing through the final poems before the book fell apart under the weight of my own sweat. There were books left out which opened in the heat like tubers; books dropped overboard from canoes which dried into salt-caked fossils. And yet, in this most forbidding and secretive of places, mercifully, thankfully the books came, and kept coming.

Nâzım Hikmet, Piraye’ye Mektuplar, YKY, 2012. This massive book of Hikmet’s prison letters to his wife Piraye ought to be among the foremost classics of modern Turkish literature. But you could just about say that for any of Hikmet’s books. First published by Adam Books in March 1998 and now reprinted as part of YKY’s Nâzım Hikmet series. This edition includes 581 letters over 772 pages. There could be no better use of a translator’s time than to bring this entire book over into English.

Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone, trs. Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness, Penguin Books, 2012. I loved this book so much that I wrote about it for Conversation Quarterly. You can read what I had to say by clicking here.

John Freely, The Grand Turk, I.B.Taurus, 2012. Freely never disappoints and here, in his spirited biography of Sultan Mehmet II, the Conqueror, his command of narrative plays faithfully to the facts. Few Pop Historians can rival Freely when it comes to the Ottomans.

Bird CloudAnnie Proulx, Bird Cloud, Fourth Estate, 2012. In the summer of 2011, alone in a tent for two days and nights, I was pinned down to the side of a Swedish mountain north of Arjeplog by a magnificent storm, with little more than a bag of rice and a book of Tomas Tranströmer’s Collected Poems. I couldn’t bear to open the book and for the next five weeks in milder forests across northern Sweden the book remained closed. So when I carried Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud all the way up into those same storm prone hills this year (2012), trapped again by a storm too big for me to think through, I knew I wouldn’t read it. But then I did. And when the rice ran out I even thought I might eat it. But then I didn’t.

Martin Anderson, Snow: Selected Poems 1981-2011, Shearsman Books, 2012. Anderson’s poems are what inner space was made for. Astonishing. Far and away the best book of poems published in 2012.

Anyone who can count one or two hours in the company of a book each day, no matter where or how they live, can count themselves among the chosen.

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Filed under North American Poets, Poetry of the Middle East, Travels, Turkish Poetry, World Literature

Ibn Fadlan & the Land of Darkness

Issue 28, Summer 2012, of Quarterly Conversation carries my review of Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness, translated by Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone, recently published by Penguin Books. Find it online at the Quarterly Conversation website.

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Top Reads 2011

As 2011 comes to a close what better way to mark it than through books. These are just a few of the memorable highs in a year overwhelming packed with lows.

İlhan Berk, Çiğnenmiş Gül. YKY, 2011. The unmistakable voice of İlhan Berk, as much alive as ever. [in Turkish]

Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, in a marvelous translation by Dick Davis. A spellbinding book of the pre-islamic Persian Kings. Penguin Books, 2007.

Evliyâ Çelebi’s Seyahatnâmesi, Book 2, Volume 1. Çelebi’s account of his journey to Trabzon in 1640 is one of the most important and compelling portraits we have of the city in Ottoman times. YKY, 2011. [in Turkish]

Evliya Çelebi, An Ottoman Traveller: Selection from the Book of Travels, trans. by Robert Dankoff & Sooyong Kim. Eland, 2010. Indisputably the most important single work of translation from Turkish to English for a decade. Long overdue, and not to be missed. The greatest travel writer of the Ottoman Empire, Çelebi has been described as a Turkish Pepys, a Muslim Montaigne and an Ottoman Herodotus. His interests range from architecture to natural history, through religion, politics, linguistics, music, science, food and the supernatural.

Michael Psellus, Fourteen Byzantine Rulers, trans. by E. R. A. Sewter. Penguin, 1966.

Pindar, The Complete Odes, trans. by Anthony Verity. Oxford, 2007.

Birhan Keskin, Soğuk Kazı. Metis, 2010. Keskin’s stunning, untranslatable eighth book. [in Turkish]

Turki Al Hamad, Shumaisi, trans. by Paul Starkey. Saqi, 2005. The second part of this Saudi novelist’s explosive coming-of-age trilogy. An extraordinary view into one of the world’s most secretive and hidden societies.

Asuman Suner, New Turkish Cinema: Belonging, Identity & Memory. I. B. Tauris, 2010. An interesting overview of the contemporary cinema scene in Turkey, notable for its treatment of Nuri Bilge Ceylan – the first significant assessment of his work so far in English – and for overlooking Semih Kaplanoğlu.

Andrew Brown, Fishing in Utopia: Sweden and the Future that Disappeared. Granta, 2009.

Faruk Duman, Sencer ile Yusufçuk. Can, 2009. The fifth collection from a master of the Turkish short story. Is there anyone writing like Faruk Duman? What a shame you can’t read his work in English. [in Turkish]

Samuel Hearne, A Journey to the Northern Ocean. TouchWood, 2007. One of the greatest adventure narratives ever written, the story of Hearne’s three-year trek to seek a trade route across the Canadian Barrens in the Northwest Territories. First published in 1795.

Memet Can Doğan, Attar. YKY, 2009. The fifth collection from this fascinating young Turkish poet. [in Turkish]

David Thompson, The Travels, 1850 Version. Edited by William E. Moreau. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009. The book jacket says it all in describing Thompson’s Travels as “one of the finest early expressions of the Canadian experience. The work is not only an account of a remarkable life in the fur trade but an extended meditation on the land and Native peoples of western North America.” A mesmerizing read from cover to cover.

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Filed under ilhan Berk, Poetry of the Middle East, Political discussion, Travels, Turkish Poetry, Turkish Short Story

Translation House, Switzerland

panoramaI finally arrived two days ago at the magnificent Ǜbersetzerhaus Looren, situated near the Swiss hill village of Wernetshausen, east of Zurich. I’m here in this spectacular location to prepare the final manuscript of Ikinci Yeni: The Turkish Avant-Garde, due from Shearsman Books this November. And with that wonderful panorama (above) facing me everyday, the hard work is in turning away and keeping my eyes on the books. The garden is a riot of greens – and coming from Saudi Arabia, what a blast that is to the senses – peppered with vibrant yellows and purples, brilliant whites and pinks of wild flowers fringing the lawn. There is a small vegetable plot and a herb garden next to the house, and as the storms rolled in last night I sat out there under hazels getting slowly soaked in the rain and the scents of jasmine and thyme – the first rain I’ve seen for eight months.

I’m also here to work on a small book of poems by Zafer Ekin Karabay. Zafer was a remarkable young man and a gifted poet. We first met back in 1999, playing table-football in a café in Ankara. Next month, 13 September, sees the seventh anniversary of his death. He died, by his own hand, two and a half months before the release of his first book of poems, Şubatta Saklambaç.

So, Switzerland. There are three fresh peaches ripening on my desk. If the sun comes out (and I’m hoping it doesn’t – you can really miss clouds you know!), I’ll eat the first for Iftar. Allah kabul etsin. Before then, and while the sun is still a stranger to my fruit, I’m going out into the garden again…

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