“I could never be the poet of one country”

These are the words of Mehmet Yashin, a writer from Cyprus who is going to give a talk at the U of Michigan with the title: “Writing in a Mediterranean Island. In-Between Languages and Literary Spaces.”  The talk is taking place on March 22nd at 4pm at the International Institute.

We invite the Michigan community to join us to think together about what it means to be a minority writer, to be homeless in one’s language while dealing with the trauma of war and national violence. This is the first time that a writer from Cyprus is giving a talk at the University of Michigan and this is a great opportunity for everyone interested to hear about this part of the Mediterranean world.

Cyprus since the depth of time has been a place of various exchanges. Different rulers have conquered the island bringing along their languages, religions, cultures, scripts, armies, and people and left a mark on the physiognomy of the people inhabiting the island. All these different types of rulers, Hellenes, Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans, French, Venetian, Ottoman and British worked as circulators of power among different ruling elites. The rural population of the island that consisted mostly of Greek, Armenian and Maronites until 1571 and additionally Turks during and after the Ottoman period was receptive to all the civilizations of these empires.

There is a paradox that defines these populations: while rooted to the same geographic location they are the ones in the throes of continuous change even though it is their rulers who keep changing. Cypriots are able to take on different identities at different times and be receivers of multi-cultural characteristics. Today, they contemplate their existence, which is a product of many oppressive mediations. Mehmet Yashin contemplates the effects of these mediations:

“What was my real name? Did I ever have a real name? The conquerors have brought in some kind of surname law; they have registered us under their own names. They have posted our new identity down below.”

The multiplicity of Cyprus’ civilizations cancels its singular and homogenous existence in the world of nations. Mehmet Yashin’s work bears this multiplicity of cultures especially in his choice of language. He sometimes uses Karamanlidika, Turkish languages written in Greek script, in order to show the cultural cohabitation that happens in languages. He writes:

“I was often unsure in which language to shed tears, the life I lived wasn’t foreign, but one of translation, my mother-tongue one thing, my mother-land another, and I again, altogether different […] I could never be the poet of one country, because I belong to a minority. And ‘freedom’ is still an uneasy word in any nation’s lexicon.”

Mehmet Yashin’s in-betweeness is a constant process that horizontally transmutes the borders of history. His name is that of change. His home is change itself.

His work expresses the tragedy of searching for a language that is one’s own. In the world of nations his words are homeless and for this reason his poetry points to longings of the past where connections among different identities coexisted. He feels that his words now need to be deported in the realm of a poetic nation where he is free to express different dimensions of a culturally complex history and identity.

His writing expresses the existential problem of those people who belong to a nation always stuck in the cracks of the nations of others, an experience similar to writers such as Anton Shammas and Gazi Kaplani.

In another occasion he writes:

“We don’t have an identity card that’s valid in the world. Doesn’t that indicate that we don’t exist? That we think we exist is another matter.”

Mehmet Yashin is also going to have a book reading on March 23rd at the UMMA at 4pm.

http://sitemaker.umich.edu/meditopos/mehmet_yashin

Interest in any of the following topics will make his talk relevant to you: colonialism-postcolonialism, nationalism, cosmopolitanism, translation, childhood trauma, Mediterranean imagination, borderlines between Greek and Turk, Greek and Turkish literatures, homelessness and many more.

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About Maria Hadjipolycarpou

PhD Candidate at the University of Michigan, Department of Comparative Literature. Primary Blog: http://cypriotinwonderland.wordpress.com/
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