30. Garip

The modernization of Turkish poetry had already been long underway when Oktay Rıfat published the “Garip” (Strange) volume with Orhan Veli and Melih Cevdet Anday in 1941. Nazım Hikmet’s blistering experimentation had been radically reshaping the language of Turkish poetry for almost 20 years, and the “Garip” movement is commonly cited as the second key transformative step against traditional Ottoman literary conventions. As Veli wrote in the selection’s manifesto-like preface, the aim was to eliminate:

all artifice and convention from poetry. Rhyme and metre, metaphor and simile had been devised to appeal to a succession of elites … Today’s poet must write for growing masses. The problem was not to undertake their defense, but to find out what kind of poetry it was that appealed to them, and to give them that poetry.

Actually, this wasn’t hugely different to what Hikmet had been pushing for years, and 1941 is quite late for such a “modernist awakening” anyway, but the “Garip” poets would nevertheless come to be seen as key revolutionaries of 20th century Turkish poetry. (…)

Reading Veli often feels like encountering a raffish, rakı-chugging “Istanbul man” of the early republican era, but Rıfat is less socially specific. His three formative years in Paris in the 1930s, surrounded by innovators and enthused by the possibilities of surrealism applied to Turkish, seem to have become increasingly important throughout his life.

Nevertheless, those early years still echoed through Rıfat’s work. In his poem “Umbrella” (1969) it’s possible to detect the spirit of Veli:

I was walking under my umbrella.
It was raining cats and dogs.
Torrents of water either side.
But in my head brightness, sunny days,
Hopes, desires, loves, seas,
I was walking under my umbrella.
Blue sky under my umbrella.

/ William Armstrong, Hürriyet

‘Poems of Oktay Rıfat’ by Oktay Rıfat, trans. Ruth Christie and Richard McKane (Anvill Press, £12, 256 pages)

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