Wednesday, August 9, 2017



“Romeo and Romeo” by Ahmet Güntan
published in Eda: An Anthology of ContemporaryTurkish Poetry edited by Murat Nemet-Nejat
(Talisman House, 2004)

Murat Nemet-Nejat writes in the intro to Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry, published by Talisman House: "What is ecstatic in eda involves a blurring of identities, in pain, at the same time moving from object to object, unifying them in a mental movement of yearning, dance of dispossession." In this context, what struck me about Ahmet Güntan's "Romeo and Romeo" (featured below) is exactly this blurring of identities between the lover and the beloved. Romeo gazes into Romeo's eyes: Narcissus gazing into a pool. The poem begins with an image of seeing, "Seeing me    he came from you" Narcissus loses himself as he reaches for his own image: "More than me you, I'll remember, I / sleep in you" So this is the Sufi destruction of the ego, the blurring of identities enacted in the poem. Not Buber's I / Thou but the blurring of distinctions between the I and the you . Furthermore, the speaker, the I, is alone like Narcissus: "I'm with myself, alone, for myself, / walking around, me, taking you out / who, u-turning, takes within you, me." This Other arises from the speaker himself as much as it can be seen as someone "outside" of himself. But this is a moment among many moments in the sequence of poems where this kind of Cartesian rationality breaks down utterly, the distance between lover and beloved is blurred, one flows into the other. Finally, I'm not certain it is accurate to say that the speaker is addressing another person in the material sense. At first it seemed to me that two people were meant but then I realized that instead they are in a process of unification on a spiritual plane, where individual ego is subsumed in ecstasy.  What I mean is that there is a lover addressing his beloved in the poem but the distinction between the two doesn't hold because the ego is not there. It is as if Narcissus having drowned emerged on the other side of life somewhat like Orpheus in the famous scene in Cocteau's film. Indeed, the speaker is a kind of Orpheus figure: "in sleep you depart, from me, / in sleep I forget, I, I / depart, from you." And in another poem: "You are leaving, don't, stay here I said, he said / I don't go far he said, he says. / am not leaving, I'm staying, I said." The desire of union and the pain of departing in this poem is so heightened that the reader feels this "dialogue" can only be occurring on a spiritual plane. You feel the "mental movement of yearning, the dance of dispossession." 

And so the poem ends with a consummation of this love on a higher plane but this is not final. The following lines, that conclude all of the poems in the sequence except the last one, show a kind of reversal of linear time: "what runs away, follows" and "what doesn't stop    stop." Time is not measured the same way when the lovers' identities are merged. Perception has changed: "I want to start from scratch." But each of these phrases are preceded by the phrase "Once more, once more, once more" So it is not as though the time is static. Here is the "weaving of past and present into one continuum, which is the Sufi essence of time. In this perception the splits between past, present and even future disappear into a simultaneity - into movements of perception." In this space of consummation time is not split into past, present, and future. Just as the idea of linear time interrupts the perception of a continuum, so does the ego create a distance between the I and the other.

One last thought on Güntan's poem. Nemet-Nejat mentions, in his essay on "Romeo and Romeo," that "the sleep and wake-up times of the two appear out of sync with each other, one waking up exactly when the other is going to sleep." Sleep is also when the body is at rest: it is in a state of non-being, egoless, and not subject to rational thought. For these reasons, it is most receptive to the penetration of the other in a spiritual sense. The waking relation to the dream state confirms that there is an alternate mode of experience, one that is perhaps more real in a sense than what we see when we are awake.

I would like to close with this section from my translation of Philostratus The Elder’s Images that I thought would be interesting in the context of this poem. In it Philostratus is describing to a boy a painting of Narcissus:

Now I want you to notice certain tiny details that give the painting a greater sense of realism; look, for example, at the painted dewdrops that drip from the flowers and look at that bee settling on a flower – now you might ask yourself whether a real bee has been deceived by a painted flower and yet, on the other hand, perhaps we are the ones who are deceived and a painted bee is in fact real. I do not know the answer. Let us leave this question for now. Rather, let us resume our discussion of Narcissus.  Now the painting hasn’t deceived you, Narcissus, nor do you occupy yourself with a thing made of pigments or wax. But you don’t realize that this is just your reflection in the pool as you gaze into it; instead you are tricked by the resemblance of your image in the water. Now if you changed the expression on your face, or made a gesture with your hands you would see that the image changes. Instead, what do you expect to happen? You act as though you had met a friend and you wait for him to do something. Do you expect the very pool to somehow enter in conversation with you? Of course you don’t. And this young man before us cannot hear anything we say, he is too preoccupied with gazing into the pool, and so we must discover the meaning of the painting ourselves. 


                                                ROMEO & ROMEO (1990-1994)
                                                by Ahmet Güntan

                        The Hour of Sleep

Seeing me    he came from you
wanting himself, love, I was in you,                              
let him take from me, the wanter, what he wants 

I am near you, I came near you, me,                                                     
hasn't flown yet, will go then,          
you, time then, for your want.          

Waited for your arrival, with you,             
near, next  someone someone, with me
I’ll love him, he forgot it before, 

Forgetting, he slept, the before, with the one there,
but he says he compares tears to me, his better self,           
sleeping forget, said, hey you, the one here.

More than me you, I’ll remember, I               
sleep in you, me                                    
if you want to see, come, look where I sleep.      

Romeo, my Romeo's leaving me,                                                   
when you wake up, turn back, my lover, here, towards you,
as I sleep, me, on the road you meet, me, I'll meet you.

I had arrived, here, I want to find, here, again,
as I wake up be near me   you found me           
only I love as much as you love me, you.           

Don’t lie, love invisibly, me,                                          
there where you spent the night 
search me, can you sleep, then, near me, in you.

Let's sleep, let's, one-two-three-thirty,
four-five-six-thirty, seven-eight-nine-thirty,
ten-thirty, sleep time.

Once more, once more, once more,
I want to start from scratch. 

Once more, once more, once more,
what doesn't stop    stop.                            

Once more, once more, once more,
what runs away, follows.


I'm with myself, alone, for myself,
walking around, me, taking you out,                 
who, u-turning, takes within you, me.

I won't be, here, you,
from where you sleep, I continue, as I wake up, me,
where you forgot, I start, as I forget, you. 

I won't forget, what I forgot, fooling, you,                 
you forgot what you did, did me, 
you sleep when I wake up, in your sleep tell me, me, what you got to tell me.

What I sleep with, before I asleep, give to me,
wake up, you  I feel sleepy  I must go, to me,                 
sleep with me, see what turns up, turns to where I turn, to you.            

Sleepy, you can wait for my waking up, what it will give is me,
waiting to wake up I see, you,
in sleep, waiting waiting for your waking up, in me.          

Little left, to my sleep, if you feel unsleepy, follow,          
you forget what you forgot, the target in sleep, me,
what I'd forgotten I didn’t, I, you.

Once more, once more, once more,
I want to start from scratch.

Once more, once more, once more,
what doesn't stop   stop.                   

Once more, once more, once more,
what runs away, follows.


Sleeping you depart,
forgetter of your leaving is, me        
as I return from sleep, get,
you return from sleep, you.

As I return from sleep                                      
if you return into
me, there forget
what it forgot, you.

Sleep with me, you,
in sleep you depart, from me,
in sleep I forget, I, I
depart, from you.

The sleeper departs, departer sleeps,
the mark in sleep, me,                             
I'll lull to sleep,                        
in me, what repeats itself.

Once more, once more, once more,
I want to start from scratch. 

Once more, once more, once more,                   
what doesn't stop     stop.                                     

Once more, once more, once more,
what runs away, follows.             


Looks for a simple thing: your looking for me 
I do not object to, he'll pursue his objection,
I do not look for you the way you do
me, the one I look for does exactly as I want him to, me.

Very simple, it, to me, you will show me,
as you look in your manner for me, I’ll still be there,
whatever turns up, fetch and show me,
in my searching place, I'll find and return me.

Very simple, what I look for is pure, not in you, you aren't in me,   
come, find me, I am asleep in you,                   
you were fooling me in my sleep, me
from me, come, sleep in it, you, desiring me 

Very simple, it’ll make me sleep, your sleep, me,             
without knowing with whom I'm falling, in love with you,
didn’t catch on, someone, he is looking for me                               
fool him, show him, again to no one        

I want to return to the beginning, once more, 
lie down, if you want to forget, lie down then forget      
is there someone by you who knows, who can know
you’re sleeping, now then forget me.            

Once more, once more, once more,
I want to start from scratch. 

Once more, once more, once more,                   
what doesn't stop     stop.                                     

Once more, once more, once more,
what runs away, follows.                                

                        The Hour to Wake Up

Come, he said, let's carry it together, he said.
As much as I can carry, I said.
As much as you can carry, he said.

You are leaving, don't, stay here I said, he said
I said don't go far he said, he says.
am not leaving, I'm staying, I said.   

Sleep makes one rest he said, I said.
Sleep erases things he says he said, I said
I listen to the bitter end, I said he said he says

He opens, I said, the door, I said,
to me I said, it's true I said.      
there, I said, is visible, I said, the arriver, I said.

He's shutting it to me, he said,
I'll open it, don't you worry I said, he said.

Justice Romeo!

Justice, my Romeo!

                        Translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat[1]

[1] Eda: An Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry, edited by Murat Nemet-Nejat (Talisman House, 2004). "Romeo & Romeo" was originally published in Turkish in Turkey in 1995 by Yapi Kredi.


Peter Valente is the author of A Boy Asleep Under the Sun: Versions of Sandro Penna  (Punctum Books, 2014), which was nominated for a Lambda award, The Artaud Variations (Spuyten Duyvil, 2014), Let the Games Begin: Five Roman Writers (Talisman House, 2015), two books of photography, Blue (Spuyten Duyvil) and Street Level (Spuyten Duyvil, 2016), two translations from the Italian, Blackout by Nanni Balestrini (Commune Editions, 2017) and Whatever the Name by Pierre Lepori (Spuyten Duyvil, 2017), Two Novellas: Parthenogenesis & Plague in the Imperial City (Spuyten Duyvil, 2017), a collaboration with Kevin Killian, Ekstasis (blazeVOX, 2017) and the chapbook, Forge of Words a Forest (Jensen Daniels, 1998). He is the co-translator of the chapbook, Selected Late Letters of Antonin Artaud, 1945-1947 (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2014), and has translated the work of Luis Cernuda, Gérard de Nerval, Cesare Viviani, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, as well as numerous Ancient Greek and Latin authors. He is presently at work on a book for Semiotext(e). In 2010, he turned to filmmaking and has completed 60 shorts to date, 24 of which were screened at Anthology Film Archives.

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