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İlhan Berk


(Translated by George Messo)


İlhan Berk, one of Turkeyís most influential and innovative poets, was born in 1918 in the Aegean city of Manisa. He was the award-winning author of more than two dozen books of poetry, as well as volumes of critical and biographical prose. He was also an acclaimed visual artist. Berk lived for many years in the town of Bodrum where he died on 28 August, 2008. His books in English, translated by George Messo, are: A Leaf about to Fall: Selected Poems (Salt, 2006), Madrigals (Shearsman, 2008) and The Book of Things (Salt, 2009). 

George Messo is a poet, translator, and editor. His poetry includes From the Pine Observatory (2000), Entrances (2006), and Hearing Still (2009). He has written two books in Turkish: Aradaki Ses (The In-between Voice, 2005) and Avrupaínın KŁÁŁk Tanrıları (The Little Gods of Europe, 2007). His many translations include İkinci Yeni: The Turkish Avant-Garde (Shearsman, 2009), and Birhan Keskinís & Silk & Love & Flame: Selected Poems (forthcoming, 2010). He is the former editor of Near East Review.





The skin my love is slippery
Like long, wild grass.
At night I touched your naked skin
My tongue roamed everywhere.

Over and over the knot of your mouth
Then I bent to your skinís hair
Our whiskey voice, voracious mouth, eyelashes
Falling onto my paper at night.

The offer

(Then I went out with your face
Into a street thinking itself a street
           as if it were late afternoon).



Plural is beauty. Keep your face there
                   (Your face, visage of a peopleís history)
Hold your mouth to my groin, sweet sin
                  My body, that hell, in your body
                 ó My Sweet, letís make love.

Itís dirty love, my child, that fluid fossil
                  The womb, that exile, is everything
Think of the endlessly renewing stone
And remember the skin is history too
                  Your mouth, that fire, in my mouth
                 ó My Sweet, letís make love.



Your face is a street leading down to the sea,
Itís a crossroads, your face is a water clock

Whenever I bend down to your face
Itís a market opening early

You are a lily without rhyme or metre
White I breathe upon you deep blue

As if I were working on a long poem
Your face conferred its longest rhymes

And who knows what your face rubs off
Perhaps I too am prose


I am pain. I mean your sometimes abject face. Sometimes
Your neck bent in despair. Sometimes your mouth, your blackened eyes.

I mean your childhood. I mean a street in Bursa
(It seems to me as if Iíd never seen Bursa)

Then the candle you lit one evening in a church
For a face that death had not yet come to know.

You are always turning into a face for me,
A face
That carries within it nights and dawns.

I am your ruin, the one you raised
In the written hand of pain.


With you here, we knew no evil
Unhappiness, misfortune were absent from life
Without you they lined up hope with darkness
Without you they crossed out our well-being
For days now the sea, seen through a window, is unlovely
For days now our humanity dimly lights through our absence of you.

Come, take us to new times.






copyright © İlhan Berk
copyright for translation © George Messo