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Siirin Vaktine Mezmur.

Cyprus stands poised right at the heart of the Eastern Mediterranean like an enormous antenna open to all the ancient and modern cultures that have converged around that fertile basin. The northern portion of the island is the territory of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," which declared its independence in 1983 and remains diplomatically unrecognized except by the Republic of Turkey. Its culture is, by and large, an extension of modern Turkey and its Ottoman antecedents. Nevertheless, it produces a poetry whose originality escapes notice by Turkey's literary establishment. There, a place of distinction belongs to Fikret Demirag (b. 1940), who represents a compelling cultural synthesis as richly endowed as the culture of Cyprus, North or South.

On the strength of his eighteen verse collections, it could be claimed that Demirag deserves to stand in the ranks of the best modern poets writing in the Turkish language anywhere in the world. I would even hazard the speculation that if he were writing in English, French, or Spanish, he might by now have achieved the status of a world-class poet. Certainly some of his poems invite favorable comparison with the best published in the Western world over the past three decades. It is a pity that he creates his work in a language which attracts very little critical attention abroad and is sparsely translated. The problem is compounded by deplorable neglect in Turkey, despite some significant praise by a number of prominent literary figures (Melih Cevdet Anday, Behcet Necatigil, Cemal Sureya, et alii). Also, he was featured in a hefty anthology of Cypriot Turkish poetry published by the poet-translator Mehmet Yasin in 1994 (a volume which I greatly regret I have been remiss in reviewing for WLT).

Demirag's poetic art in recent years has sought to create a modern mythology which explores and incorporates ancient Greek and Anatolian civilizations as well as the biblical experience. His latest collection of poems, Siirin Vaktine Mezmur (Psalm for the Time of Poetry), provides a further dimension of Demirag's evolving synthesis. All his hallmarks are here: the eloquent quest for universal values, his restless walks through ancient sites, the evocations of prophets and scriptures, beautifully controlled lyricism, vivid images and metaphors, his forceful questioning of morality, a style both subtle and stirring, an inner world as complex as the natural environment and man-made arts and destruction surrounding the poet.

"Psalm" is a vigorous exploration of poetry itself. Demirag challenges poetry as the quintessence of the creative psyche, as the dynamic of history, as the synecdoche of civilizations, and as a vehicle for justice and Idealpolitik. His is among the best "poetry about poetry." One hopes and prays that Turkey will come to do honor, or at least justice, to the many splendors of this Cypriot master.

Talat Sait Halman Bilkent University, Ankara
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Author:Halman, Talat Sait
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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