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Centre for Creative Arts

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Interview with Poetry Africa’s Ilyas Tunç (Plus Poems)

Ilyas TuncTurkish poet Ilyas Tunç is appearing at the Poetry Africa International Poetry Festivalnow on in Durban.

Here’s an interview with Tunç conducted by Niren Tolsi; and following the Q&A, find several of Tunç’s poems:

Imagining Turkish poet Ilyas Tunç as the eye in the societal storm is irresistible.

Tunç, who will participate at the Poetry Africa International Festival in Durban next week, writes poetry that delves into a range of themes — from memories of childhood to an individual sense of desolation — with brevity, insightfulness and grace.
His words appear to cast perspectives on life’s maelstrom from a point of thoughtful calm, which serves to leaven their impact, rather than detract from it.


Niren Tolsi: You are from Sinop, birthplace of the Cynic philosopher Sinopian Diogenes. In one of the more famous anecdotes regarding Diogenes, he is said to have wandered the streets of Athens during the day with a lantern, searching for an honest man. Some would suggest that the act of carrying of a lantern in the daylight on this particular search is the poet’s task, imbued with both an air of futility and yet vital for humanity understanding itself. Can you please comment.

Ilyas Tunç: I was born in Ordu, a small city on the Black Sea coast in Turkey. But I have been living in Sinop for eighteen years. Built on a peninsula it is a castle city where Sinopian Diogenes was born and spent his childhood. A few years ago his statue was built in the Lonca Gate, the entrance of the city.

Yes, Diogenes wandered the streets in the full daylight with a lantern. When asked what he was doing, he would answer, “I am just looking for a good man.” He found nothing, but rascals, scoundrels, despots … This phrase, on the one hand, manifests an irony in itself. On the other, it reflects the tragedies of the age when Diogenes lived. There has been a great number of tyrants throughout the human history, which doesn’t mean that no good man exists. Indeed, the lantern in his hand symbolises hope. People must search until finding. What Diogenes said, to an extent, is true, but not completely. For the earth gives birth to good men such as Steve Biko, Ken Saro Wiva, Che Guevera, Deniz Gezmi…

Ilyas Tunç poems

far words

I cried the truth out everywhere
and then I found I couldn’t sleep

uncover the basket and see what you find:
a chopped-off tongue !

a guillotine !

I wish I hadn’t told the truth
I would be sleeping still
in lullabies
and legends.

once my eyes were so sharp
I could see like an owl

but now! …

once my feet carried my head proudly
and all the cedars bowed down
paying tribute to my poems

but now!…

the guillotine !

oh, my lifetime ! a lame and lumpy rhythm!
because I cried out the truth
and nobody heard!


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