Metric Conversions: Poetry of Our Time (edited, compiled and translated into Crimean Tatar by Taner Murat, with illustrations by Sagida Siraziy). Iasi, Sos: Editura StudIS, 2013. Pages 299. ISBN 9786066244497.
Taner Murat has a mission: To revive and popularize his native tongue through poetry. He views the compilation and editing of the anthology as an exercise in intercultural exchange, “an encouragement to cultural contact and sharing, and an invitation to acknowledge otherness as originally planned and created by God,” as he confides to me. Though Metric Conversions – Metreli kaytarmalar – seeks to “build a modest bridge between the Crimean Tatars and distant nations, religions, races and cultures of the world,” it appears to me that Taner Murat has achieved much more. His vision of unconditional love and oneness of all creation motivates him to interpret to the Crimean Tatar community their present as also to re-interpret for them their past so that they could experience a new era of creation different from the past epochs and characteristically contemporary to them in its vision and motive. His cultural quest – compiling, editing, and translating-is his silent action against so much violence and negativities without. It works in quieter ways, revealing the interior space and adding a range of subtlety to thoughts and ideas.
With his soul-sense and awareness of ‘inmost truth’, Murat makes us think, just as the contributing poets he chooses to make the anthology enrich his quest with their perception of life and living. They not only reframe and re-contextualize real life but also situate themselves within broader cultural trends. In fact they widen and sharpen our contact with existence; they are all prompted by their inner urge to live more fully and deeply with greater awareness, to know the experience of others and to know better their own experience.
With his heightened view of rhythmic and creative self-expression and visioned thinking, the internationally renowned editor-in-chief of Nazar Look blends new views and revelations, new ideals and values, new powers of reviving but no longer limited or obscurantist. Taner Murat’s flair for harmony of Truth, Beauty, Delight, Life, and the Spirit is evident in his design of revival of what was left aside or ignored and which now deserves a fresh look. His exercise, fusing vision that transfigures the old rhythms and creates new characteristic harmonies, thus, effectively becomes a search for Spirit which is greater than life.
The multifaceted poet-editor, who is no academic but well aware of on-line developments and interesting paradigm shifts both in poetry and arts, fortifies his work by novel visual art, which he uses to prefix each poet’s introductory and poems. In fact, the dual muse – poetry and painting-not only re-invigorates the Crimean Tatar art and language but also enlightens the international community about its rich tradition and newer possibilities. As he clarifies, it is “innovative and thrilling to enrich the creative conception of the anthology by bringing a collection of Tatar visual art near the English poetry. I believe this can help our work to shape in the minds of the English readers an outlined perception of our identity and culture. I have to confess that the visual art work was not created especially for the illustration of this book. Instead, I went to the portfolio of the artist and I simply chose the paintings with eloquent themes. Tatars have many artists, but I preferred Sagida for the expression of her work and for her gel pen technique, which much like the engraving helps preserving most of the consistency of the paintings when printing in black and white.”
He is right, and justified. The confluence of visual art and literary art raises awareness to a new level besides communicating solidarity at international level. The illustrations by Sagida Siraziy (Sirazieva), a Tatar artist from Kazan, Tatarstan (Russia), add to the poets’ shared optimism and Taner Murat’s own voyage for “having new eyes,” both for the Tatar communities abroad and English speaking audience (in North America, Western Europe, West Asia, Middle East, South Africa, South East Asia, and elsewhere) who would like to know the emerging artistic aspects of Crimean Tatar people. Her drawings complement the poems of 38 poets (28 Male and 10 Female) Murat trusts for their sensibility and soul experience from the USA (22), the UK (2), Turkey (1), Philippines (1), Canada (2), South Africa (2), India (5), Israel (1), and Palestine (1).
Sagida’s art, which is highly evolved, symbolic, and interpretative, and rooted in the native folk tradition and creation myths, is a celebration of the inner spirit. She draws with a mystic veil and urge for union with the Supreme Creator. She seeks oneness and totality of our being and Nature and the world and God to make actuality of our life more real and rich. She stirs the inmost psyche or subtle recesses of the soul with her dynamics of the East and West.
Murat’s carefully selected drawings from the artist’s ouvre provide a glimpse of the contemporary Tatar art with human quest at its centre. Sagida’s smooth and elegant illustrations are the speech of the Spirit, at times with elements in a mystic rhetoric. One can read her images in greater depths. The drawings are spiritually uplifting in that these present a harmonious blend of man and nature, and tradition and modernity. These are predominantly Prakriti or Nature oriented, or guided by the Yin, or feminine principle, with God touch, which helps harmonize the opposites.
The artist is intuitive, enlarging the tradition of Godward endeavor of the human spirit, or life itself, just as she anticipates the recognition of the divine presence both in creation and reception of her art. With awareness of new dimensions and new meanings, both Sagida and Murat appear intuitively traditional, universal, and timeless in their visual poetics.
However, it is the resurrecting effort of Murat, who appreciates poets and artists’ oneness with internationality, that an endangered Crimean Tatar language and art becomes relevant to people bred on the 21st century aesthetics of digital culture. His preference for short poems is in tune with his community’s essentially lyrical, rhythmical, and visual mind. He, therefore, anthologizes poems with themes and passions that reflect Tatar experiences of love, life, and reality, and social awareness, anguish, separation, hardship, death, migration, urban discontent, inner restlessness, as also spiritual aspirations, or Sufi quest, and consciousness of oneness with the divine and everyone, and inner struggle for moral and spiritual values amidst the ironic helplessness of our time.
For instance, the imagination of poets such as Christopher Leibow, Larry Lefkowitz, Phillip Lorren, Paul Killam, Christopher Hivner, Steven Jacobson, Shawn Aveningo, Gary Beck, Kevin Marshall Chopson, Alan D.Harris, and Ron Koppelberger has spiritual touch. As they try to explore the unexplored, they relate their angst, hope, and dream to reality and establish their purpose of living. Their deeply felt spiritual strains are nearer the Tatar mind.
Shawn Aveningo, in her search for the “core”, thinks with a sense of eternity and expresses the essential oneness: “It is in truth that I stand before you,” and “I am whole;/We are one.” Gary Beck discovers inner wisdom as he explores the chaotic world and self, and experiences reality. Mike Berger raises crucial questions, questions of life and death, on behalf of the world and on his own behalf, and sounds skeptic as he searches for the lost. Les Bernstein, too, is baffled by the “curious operations of fate” and transience of human life and ties: “it is just life/and then it is over.”
Fern G.Z. Carr, aware of the evolutive curve within, wrestles with “cosmic chaos” and discovers “flinging matter into infinity and/ strewing stars into oblivion.” He sounds Upanishadic in his apprehension of silence as divine whose reality lies in a consciousness of joy. Perhaps, he understands that the light of the soul shines in the inner quietude, “an intimate solitude not to be shared/ with those who sleep.” He tries to see with ‘Spirit’s eye’.
Similarly, Ute Carson writes with a spiritual sense: Her quest is inner per se, initiated and resolved within, “at my center,” as she asserts. She seeks to move “away from bandage/ toward possibility and hope.” Jude Conlee is almost meditative when she declares: “I speak with no words.”
Don Drakes, ironically nostalgic about man-woman relationship in Zululand, appears disenchanted with post-apartheid cultural changes that make “the maidens stay at home and the young men spill/ their seed/ upon the dry earth.” Like him, Dr Mig is nostalgic about the brevity of love and irresistible desire for sensuous pleasure. But he, too, reconciles.
In the same vein, aware of the changes taking place in the “desert” of development, Alan Haider ironically realizes: “cheap desire overwhelms sensibility.” Science and technology seem to isolate, reduce man to a cog: “I am a cog/ The screw twists/ Souls are drawn upward like water/… And erg is washed away.” Yet, he is hopeful: “I believe things will move again/ even if it’s just to die/The ice will crack/ and the sun will rise.”
The poets, thus, share their inner urge and action to make a difference for all, without withdrawing from life or mind or body but trying to win over them or transforming them by the power of the spirit. To quote John Patrick Hill: “… Our lives are/ A Balance from within this Light/ And this Dark./ A Peaceful Balance, set amongst/ Star and Earth Temples./ A Positive-Positive Universal Balance./ We are the Dance Between,/Obsidian and Diamonds.” They all seek harmony and balance in our Age of Dissemination (Christopher Hivner) just as Steven Jacobson reassures: “life is fruitful and full of wonder,/ and just as the sun shines in our faces,/ so God wants His glory to shine in all/ our hearts.”
To sum up, my reflections on the random poets do not mean that Taner Murat’s anthology lacks variety or there is no other perspective possible to what the poets write. Whatever their aesthetic tenor, they follow their own intuition or dictates as they articulate their ‘self’ and ‘identity’ vis-à-vis the realities of life. As they look within or turn inside out, they demonstrate post-modernist concerns, sound ironical and apolitical, besides searching for modes that would make the neighborhood a better, richer place to live. They all think broadly and write confidently, trying to negotiate what it is to be human. They explore the world through themselves and make aesthetic choices that expose their deeper impulses and ingenuity.
Form conscious as he is, Taner Murat personally prefers “structured, disciplined verse.” But he does not differentiate between poets who favor the experimental modes of free verse and traditional metrical artifice, so long as they are appealing to the Tatar taste. He knows poetry today is a living and ever-changing entity, and so, “missing rhyme is preferable to missing poets.”
I appreciate his landmark achievement and expect the world audience, too, will whole-heartedly support his sensitively developed anthology of contemporary international poetry.
–Ram Krishna Singh