Hasan Ali Toptas

Hasan Ali Toptas, a truck driver’s son, was born in Baklan, southwest Anatolia, in 1958. He received higher vocational training in the district town of Çal, and after completing his military service survived by doing odd jobs until he found a position at the Office of Inland Revenue. He worked in various small towns as a bailiff and treasurer, and finally as a tax officer in Sincan near Ankara. Despite his inability to in get published, Toptas managed to continue writing. Following the publication of a few short stories in journals and anthologies, he paid for the printing of his first volume of stories, Bir Gülüsün Kimligi (Identity of a smile) in 1987. He submitted his second novel, Gölgesizler (1995) to the Yunus Nadi Prize jury and won. After the book won the Orhan Kemal Prize, the most coveted literary prize in Turkey, it appeared in German. Toptas is frequently named as an equal to Orhan Pamuk. Among other works, he published a children’s book, Ben Bir Gürgen Daliyi (I am a hornbeam branch), in 1997, and his fifth novel Uykularin Dogusu (East of Dreams) was published in 2005. In 2006 his Yalnizliklar (Solitudes), poetic texts he constructed as a series of encyclopedia entries in 1990, was translated into Flemish and adapted for the stage. In 2005 Toptas, took early retirement and since then has dedicated himself full time to his writing. 

Mel Kenne (co-translator) is a poet and translator who has lived in Istanbul since 1993. A founding member of the Cunda Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, he has translated much Turkish poetry and prose into English. Saliha Paker and he edited What Have You Carried Over: Poems of 42 Days and Other Works by Gülten Akin, and translated many of the poems in the collection, which will be published by Talisman House Publishers in September 2013. He and Paker also co-translated the novels Dear Shameless Death (Sevgili Arsiz Ölüm) and Swords of Ice (Buzdan Kiliçlar), by Turkish author Latife Tekin, which were  published in 2000 and 2007 respectively by Marion Boyers Publishers. Six collections of his poetry have been published, most recently Take (Muse-Pie Press 2011), and a bilingual collection in English and Turkish, Galata’dan / The View from Galata (Yapi Kredi Publishers 2010), translated by Ipek Seyalioglu.

Sehnaz Tahir-Gürçaglar (co-translator), the Coordinator the Cunda Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, studied Translation Studies at Bogaziçi University in Istanbul and Media Studies at Oslo University in Norway. She holds a PhD in Translation Studies and teaches literary translation, translation theory, history, and criticism and interpreting at Bogaziçi University. She is the author of Kapilar (2005), a book exploring different approaches to translation history, The Politics and Poetics of Translation in Turkey, 1923-1960 (Rodopi, 2008) and Çevirinin ABC’si (Sel Yayincilik, 2011), an introduction to translation and translation studies in Turkish. She has been involved in the organization of CWTTL since its launch in 2006, and while the Workshop she translated works by Nurdan Gürbilek, Hasan Ali Toptas, Murat Gülsoy and Hatice Meryem. She has also published translations of works by Haydar Ergülen, Melih Cevdet Anday, Dervis Zaim and Hür Yumer.


from “Lonelinesses, #5”

I once thought of loneliness as my granma.
Legends, during those years, would begin as bandit songs.
No thyme-perfumed forests pealing out partridge melodies
resounded in my granma’s voice;
rather, if anything,
blood-soaked mountains
sentenced to be so by official decree.
Then, rising out of a dry cough
that crumbled like lor cheese
bandits would suddenly attack the village;
or from granma’s eyes,
that looked like a pair of olives,
would leap army deserters;
they’d vault over my head
and charge up the mountains,
pulling along their shadows like a great, bloody coat.
Next, the echoing of gunshots…
With a shift of her eyelids like two dusty bugs
crushed under the yoke of centuries,
my granma would say,
your mamma’s popping corn
but I never believed her,
for I could still see those gangs everywhere; I would witness them
and I was a child
who understood
that this seeing opened belief’s widest gate.
Even when my granma stopped storytelling and dozed off
the gangs didn’t pipe down;
the bullet-whine from mausers at Besparmak
never let up day or night,
smacking cradles with their evil-eye beads
that ricocheted off the blinders of oxen.
The villagers set aside their shovels, pickaxes
and sieves,
set aside tarhana soup and cayenne pepper
set aside the odor of ginger, their voices, their dreams,
set their courage aside and gazed up at the mountains
The chimneys watched the mountains,
the doors, the tiny windows, the sheep
watched the purple mountains,
the goats watched the sky-blue mountains,
in other words nature felt curious about itself,
quite curious
and during those years
my eyes were composed of what they looked upon
my hands of whatever they touched.
Don’t ask me about my tongue,
it was made out of what I failed to say
and it lay in my mouth like a bloody book.
During those years
I didn’t even have my forests inside me
to hide my track,
I wasn’t yet even an island
in the sky
I wasn’t even a sky.
I had nothing but my grandma
(my dad would stay faithful to her in himself when he went away)
and it was as an island
that I knew my grandma,
then as a father;
as the windows heaved back my likeness,
as my looks, faced by those images
that thrived on my reflection, grew wrinkled,
and as I became short even as I grew tall,
I clung to her.
In the craggy lines of her face
I edged toward myself.
At times I was swept up in the brine of a flood,
other times I scaled sheer heights
in the belief that the nail scratch of a year (who knows which one?)
was the bed of riverand those slopes full of me.
And then, much later, the gory bodies of bandits
were hauled down the slopes
to land right in the midst of my dreams.
When I saw them I trembled (which is how I learned to tremble
even today when I shudder
a bandit drops in me).
Yes, I trembled
and wanted to grab the tired mauser on the floor
and take to the mountains.
But the guards twitched their great moustaches
(each one its own state, founded by the face)
and drove me off;
I began to flee, garbed in my fears, with no mauser,
I would dash off through the birds,
the scent of manure rushing through me,
I would cut under the wings of a chicken
scurry through the bottom of a sack of bulgur
slip through the way a sifter hangs from a nail
I’d not stop even once to look to turn and look back.
From the way I ran you could see the guards were hot on my trail;
I had to run and so I ran and ran,
until after a while all the running
made running feel like stopping.
At that point the only way I could find to run was to stop;
I stopped and a cliff got tangled up in my ankles.
To be got up in a cliff somehow is what loneliness means.

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