Blasing discusses Nazim Hikmet, founder of modern Turkish poetry

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Friday, February 2, 2007

Mutlu Blasing, professor of English, shared her insights into the life, work and politics of the controversial 20th-century Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet in a Wednesday lecture co-sponsored by the Turkish American Cultural Society of Rhode Island and the Brown Turkish Cultural Society.

Blasing’s presentation analyzed Hikmet’s biography and writings to explore both the intrinsic beauty of his work and his importance as a modernizer of Turkish poetry.

There is a close connection between Hikmet’s work and his life – the universal themes of freedom, beauty and love in his poetry arise from his personal struggles, Blasing told the 30 to 40 attendees. Most notable, she said, was Hikmet’s imprisonment by the Turkish government, a period that had a formative influence on Hikmet’s poetry.

Just as Ezra Pound wrote part of his “Cantos” in a U.S. military detention camp in Italy after World War II, Hikmet used his prison experience to perfect his poetry, Blasing explained. Using peasant inmates as his audience, Hikmet responded to their critical reactions by creating a universal poetic language. As a result, Blasing said, Hikmet produced “Human Landscapes,” an epic work that “speaks to all types of people.”

For Blasing, Hikmet’s attempt to create a universal poetic language reflected his Marxist belief that there is a link between language and communal identity.

Blasing, with her husband Randy, has translated eight volumes of Hikmet’s poetry. Blasing said she first learned of his work from a French translation and she finds it curious that the works of Hikmet have disappeared from the official textbooks used to teach Turkish schoolchildren.

Hikmet is arguably the most important modern Turkish poet, Blasing said, but she wondered aloud why Hikmet is still considered dangerous by the Turkish school system. Hikmet was a Communist, and his work was deemed to be a threat to the government. But for Blasing, Hikmet’s real “danger lies in his poetry, not his politics.”

Blasing observed that Hikmet’s poetry articulates a “moment of change” in Turkey, one that fuses Ottoman poetry and oral folk poetry into a more modern form of Turkish poetry. For Blasing, this change was an aesthetic one that made the poetic inseparable from the political.

Quoting Ezra Pound’s dictum that “only emotion endures,” Blasing said she believes Hikmet’s poetry has a lasting resonance because of the universality of his personal experience.

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