#RivetingReviews: Ewa Sherman reviews BEHAVIOUR OF WORDS by Efe Duyan

Efe Duyan is a Turkish poet, architect and event curator, born in Istanbul in 1981. His poems have been translated into over thirty languages, he has been invited to numerous international events, and worked with several universities around the world. Currently Duyan is teaching architecture at RISEBA university in Riga, Latvia. This is, however, my first encounter with his writing, which is both simple and streamlined, as well as complex and rich in so many themes. I read the slim tome several times to fully enjoy the structure, the rhythm and the melody, and to find myself in a meticulously crafted structure akin to a well designed, functional, yet inspiring building.

Just as the title suggests, Duyan is fascinated by the ’actions’ of words and sentences in the most modest yet proudly elegant form. ‘The Meaning of Spaces’ puts it purely that

it’s the spaces in-between
that connect the words,
it’s the distance that connects
person A to person B, not the speed at which they run to each other.

This makes sense:

the space between us
is like the great revolutions
everything they touch is transformed.

Yet

the words
don't even notice us.
Therefore we have to find our own method to comprehend and define hope, love and dreams: 
after all, different types of dreams—
like your birthplace and the city you love—
should be introduced to each other.

The second theme running through this volume is the humanity in all its shades and nuances. The concept might sound lofty yet I am convinced that it is shared by many of us. Duyan, an advocate for freedom of expression and creative thinking, remembers Engin Çeber, a Turkish human rights activist, tortured and killed while in police custody. His question ‘did you use to love life so much?’ implies huge passion for living; he refers to cases of police brutality and the injustice of oppression. He creates sharp, clear pictures containing strong emotions and resonating widely. 

What binds all words together is definitely our need for connection and acceptance, an expression of our fundamental desire to be heard and understood by others, the only way to remain human in the ever-changing chaos of the world. The concise use of language and metaphors brings Duyan’s writing to life and stops the readers in tracks. ‘Death Effigy’ is a great example of balancing seriousness and humour:

it turns out Różewicz preoccupied as he was
with other urgent matters had forgotten
that he also needed to die.

Mentioning the Polish poet in the Istanbul’s scene brings certain familiarity, while the contrast between attitudes to death and dying makes for a great moment to analyse what it means to face that final stage of life. Other poems touch on our collective knowledge of famous figures and less known characters that show Duyan’s eloquence and ease when moving in various intellectual spheres. Again, that leads to reflection, helps to appreciate the clarity with which these poems are written. The translation by Aron Aji is superb: sensitive, precise and inviting to become lost in the process of reading.

Reviewed by Ewa Sherman

BEHAVIOUR OF WORDS

by Efe Duyan

translated by Aron Aji

published by White Pine Press (2023)

March 2024 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.


Ewa Sherman is a writer, translator and critic. She studied Polish Literature and Language, and Law, and worked with the Polish media. She’s translated several books of sonnets written by her mother Krystyna Konecka from Polish to English.

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