Nurduran Duman

- Turkey -

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 EnglishThe 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