5th vol No 1 (July 2018)
Interview of Mesut Şenol
by Vatsala Radhakeesoon
Mesut Şenol is an eminent Turkish poet and translator. His works have been translated into English, French, German and other languages. He participates actively in poetry events and organizes literary festivals in Turkey.
Vatsala Radhakeesoon : Mesut Şenol welcome to Asian signature!
Please tell us about your background, earlier life and actual life?
Mesut Şenol: My late father was a very accomplished teacher-educator and community development pioneer. My family used to live in an agriculture oriented town where almost all types of fruits and cotton were grown alongside large olive groves. Figs, grapes, pomegranates, apples, melons, olives and all others were part of our life. As a kid, I felt the liberty to take adventure in the vicinity of town – be it woodland, an ancient archeological site or somewhat mysterious dark basement of the school. We were allowed to go to the orchards to pick and eat the fruits we liked. I was also very excited about our school’s theatre performances at the end of the educational year to be attended by almost all town-folks. Our teachers and students were taking part in various theatrical performances. They became so famous that we organized tours to neighboring towns to share our shows. Then I won a scholarship in the year when I was about to start my junior high school education. This was the beginning of my boarding school period. From high school up until my graduation, I had very rich, sometimes turbulent experiences in life. Once I decided to escape from school life, and ran away to a big city, Izmir where years ago I was taken there by my family for a very impressive international fair visit. I thought at the age of 11, I could find a job and manage my life. Thank God, I had that experience. You might easily guess what happened! I just returned as soon as my money was depleted. I had not forgotten to leave a message before I departed to Izmir that I sold my watch and what I did was my own decision. When I returned to my boarding school in the night and entered the night study time classroom soaked with a heavy rain water, hall monitoring teacher led me to the dormitory room. The following day everything seemed to flow in their own normalcy, except the school principal called on me and when I entered his office, he closed the door and asked me to open and extend my palms. He took up his cane sitting on the top of the cabinet and started beating me with all his power. My palms became swollen almost twice as much. As a twist of fate, my family moved to Izmir where I enjoyed an international environment. I used to go to see the tourists and tried talking to them. I was very happy to be able to help them and from time to time I was inviting some tourist couples to our house. My family and our neighbors were very happy about my initiatives. Once we had an Argentinean couple who were so tall, that our bed was not long enough leaving some parts of their legs out of the mattress. One Belgian couple were playing the guitar at the balcony of our house and our neighbors gathered to listen to their playing and singing.
Then I passed the national exam to enter university. It was Ankara University’s Faculty of Political Sciences in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. During my university years, I worked as a receptionist at a hotel and as an editor at the Directorate General for Press and Information of the Prime Ministry. My public career had started this way, and it was a very enriching post for me intellectually since I was in charge of preparing special informative bulletin for the government higher ups . I was guiding very important state visitors. And in the meantime I was accompanying and helping the TRT’s (Turkish Radio and Television Corporation) educational and cultural programs producers. That gave me an incentive to apply for announcer exam for the TRT and I passed the multi-layered exams. At that juncture of my life I had to make a choice between the TRT, being a candidate for district governor and staying at the Directorate General for Press and Information to continues my press career eventually to be appointed as a press attaché in a different country. I chose to become a district governor and started its long training process. After many fruitful years in my job as district governor, vice-governor and mayor, I was able to start many tourism, culture and art related projects. I attended and organized many national and international cultural events. Then I was appointed as the Public Relations Department Head of the Turkish Prime Minister. In that capacity I initiated various projects to facilitate better and effective mechanism to channel citizens’ grievances like “Hello Governor”, “Hello Prime Minister” hotlines. I completed my public sector career, with my tenure as Prime Ministry Advisor in charge of international affairs and organizations. There, I was also responsible for promoting our country abroad.
Upon my retirement from the last government job, I focused on my literary works. When I moved to Istanbul there I got involved in many literary projects be them editing international magazines such as Rosetta Literatura or organizing international festivals like International Ordu Festival of Literature, in a Black Sea provincial center.
Now I teach public speaking, public diplomacy, communications, non-profit organizations, voluntarism in different fora (universities, institutions, NGOs). I help municipalities and institutions such as universities, foundations organize their cultural events. I also translate literary works like poetry and novels as well as text books in social sciences.
V.R: How did poetry come into your life?
M.S: I noticed my inclination towards poetry and literature at a pretty early age. When I was a
3rd grader in my primary school, I had already started writing poems about love and life. My parents and teachers were amazed by my ability to think of those abstract concepts at that age. My perceptiveness to write and improvise poetry is still with me. I can instantly focus on a given subject or word by having no problem at all to get concentrated to produce poetic lines almost at will. I sometimes think of it as if I was born with a mission to promote poetry. In traditional Turkish folk poetry and minstrelsy, the bards are expected to improvise their poems or lyrics of their musical pieces right away.
V.R: Who/ what has been your initial source of inspiration?
M.S: I guess my initial sources of inspiration were my teachers and classmates whom I liked very much. I was hungry for getting to know people, their soul, the ways they think and feel. So at that age, I was curious enough for my own and for others’ minds and hearts. Another important element in this issue was the general attitude and mentality of my parents: they were so humanistic and universal minded persons; they were loved by town-folks since they were helping them in their business with governmental bodies – be it writing a petition or initiating a development project that was helping them to prosper.
V.R: How does the creative writing process work for you (from the initial inspiration stage to final writing of a poem)?
M.S: I can get into a half-trance state to write and improvise poems. My friends and colleagues often complain if I improvise a poem without writing it down or recording. It just flies away! But the inspiration comes with your own experience related to the location, to the event you participate, to the interactions you have with other persons. For example, I have written many poems when I was being affected in a particular place be it in Belgrade, Moscow, Minnesota and so on. If it is about a bus ride with writers, that might evoke my inspiration to write about it. So, eventually it is all about being affected emotionally through your actual experience in life.
V.R: What favourite themes do you like to explore in your poems?
M.S: I like to explore in my poems subjects like my inner journey with a mythical connection to the actual situations. In that vein, for example, I may associate samurais, dragon-fighters, shamans with contemporary settings. Feelings and philosophical thoughts may blend in my poetry. I also would like to have my readers to decode my poetry the way they interpret my connected and alternative sub-meanings. Though my poems seem to be simple ones, I unconsciously make them multi-faceted or multi-interpretable associated statements. In short, I try to explore my own world that is as complex as a very sophisticated advanced computer program. I believe we are not single creatures by our own sake. We hold the coded genes of our forefathers and mothers who had lived before us. So it is not that simple to explore one’s inner world. I am just scratching the surface.
V.R: You recently organized /coordinated the International poetry festival in Turkey. Please tell us about this event and its deeper purposes?
M.S: As you know, poetry is an oral form of communicating emotions and reactions to individuals and social issues. It is almost a common language regardless of the script it is composed. We wanted to organize a poetry festival on the UNESCO WORLD POETRY DAY, on 21 March, at Bahçeşehir University, one of Istanbul’s, actually Turkey’s most prestigious universities. Our Festival Organizing Committee comprised of Poets Haydar Ergülen, Osman Öztürk, Mesut Senol and Bahçeşehir University’s Sociology Department Head Prof. Dr. Nilufer Narli shared our views as follows:
“They say poetry is all about life… That is very true… When we examine how humans developed language as a tool of communications during the infancy of civilization, at a time when human beings started to live within a sort of a communal structure, we can readily see that poetry used to be one of the first forms of speech among our ancestors…
Why? Because poetry is the best way of expression to reflect our soul, our sentiments, our desires, our grief and so much more…
After all, we can recognize that in the history of almost all societies, the oral traditions of spoken words, stories, phases, the rhythm, music, tempo and even the magic of poetry has influenced legends and tales which were passed down by word of mouth, and has been a driving force in our espousing universal human values…
As we are crossing the threshold of the Information Age, we can observe that poetry maintains its traditional encompassing and magical power, and it can also make a sound comeback. This is so because poetry gives us a literary tool, a capacity, in this globalized world where the alienated individual among the crowd can get across his or her genuine cry in an effective way to society and other people.
THE UNESCO ISTANBUL FESTIVAL – WORLD POETRY DAY, which hosted 15 foreign poets and 12 Turkish poets last year, performs an important role in promoting the strong poetry tradition of our country internationally in a cultural dimension and introduces world poets to Turkish poetry and literature lovers.
In this beautiful city of Istanbul, which has groomed many poets throughout centuries since antiquity, we are very happy and feel extremely proud that this festival is being conducted under the auspices and hosting of Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul, Turkey.”
V.R: Is there any specific Turkish poetry-writing style that has impacted on your works?
M.S: I write my poem in a free style genre. Some lyric and epic poetry styles practiced by classical and contemporary poets had an influence on me including Nazim Hikmet, Yasar Kemal, Cemal Sureya. I also get inspiration from sufi poets like Yunus and Mevlana.
V.R: What is the actual poetry trend in your country and how do you foresee the future of this written art?
M.S: Nowadays poetry is searching its soul so to speak. Turkey has a great tradition of poetry dating back to pre-Islam period. Folk poetry and court poetry made their ways into the minds and hearts of modern poets. The Western style literature genres have been also making some impact on Turkish poets. Lately the widespread use of social media allows many people to get exposed to national and international poetry models.
V.R: What advice would you give to young and emerging poets?
M.S: It is all about interest in poetry and a strong will to widen their knowledge and grasp in the variety of poetry styles in their country and in the world. There are many occasions and opportunities for them to attend poetry or literature festivals and events. In this way they can understand and appreciate the value of poetry and realize whether this is their cup of tea or not. Getting their works published is another matter. If they are serious enough, they have to be content to start with small steps.
V.R: Any message for the world?
M.S: Poetry has been a powerful instrument both in oral and written forms to embody the reactions of humans as opposed to the nature and/or any kinds of events that have an effect on them. So it is a meaningful tool to reflect what we think and feel in order to share with our targeted audience that happens to be our social environment at large. To me a poet is not only a person who represents himself of herself but somebody speaking on behalf of a communal experience albeit of the appearance of a poem coming from an individual source. Poetry strives for the good of the people, the world, environment and nature. It is our humane power to deal with abnormalities in the world. It is the way we can enjoy life more, it is our motivation to beautify and better our existence.
V.R: We end up this enriching conversation with some of your poems
HERE YOU HAVE THE RED
an agonic, horizonless window
here you are welcome to follow
and middle size ones
and grey silvered colored lines.
without looking at dazzling rays
of the red light
and while the traces of time were gathering dust
to have the waves of the Bosphorus upraise
to the near shore and far away sails.
in the binoculars of the soul
as sea sparkles giving heartaches
and their cool shadows inflaming the love
boats got enriched all over
from the melodies’ spill.
the sea and a drop are just here
you would plunge into the depth of love
in order to find out the enigmatic formula
you and the Bosphorus are wanted
Here you have the red…
Original above poem in Turkish :
köşesiz, ufuksuz bir pencere
peşinden buyurun gelin.
kırmızı ışığa bakmadan
zaman izleri tozluyken
boğazın dalgası kabarsın diye
sahili yakın uzak yelkenlere.
yürek yakan yakamozların
serin gölgesi aşkları azdırırken
gemiler zenginleşti yine
derya ve damla hemen burada
aşkın en koyusuna dalarsınız
bilinmeyen karışık formülü bulmada
siz ve boğaz lazımsınız
I have proven to be a failure against all possibilities
Harsh elements of life did not turn me into a heartless beast
Once the gene was out of the bottle as leaving my boyhood behind
I became hugely ambitious to catch genuine glimpses of life
There were times I thought I could be utterly overwhelmed
Dazzled by the moments of retaliation to an ominous offence
On a scale of unimaginable torment reigned those moments
Divine powers utilized methods making them a matter of threat
I may have proven difficult to be known as a decent breed
I have lost my vigor to kill a success deserting my consciousness
I could not stabilize my mood to my biggest embarrassment
My resisting feelings were on the rise but getting desperate
Last line of defense was defeated by non-alien forces
Inspired ideas died down in the face of idling impairment
I became crippled being crushed under unseen pressure
At dawn accumulated debt of vile actions regenerates
Moving from odd to bizarre, the horizon got blurred
Open eyes could have made a discovery of mankind
Wisdom was being venerated by shamanic souls
The question of unsolved crimes still lingers
As an un-repented creature I dare to figure out
My inertia seems to be now on the move
To retrieve the freshly vanishing records.
Original Turkish version
Bütün olasılıklara karşın bir başarısızlık olduğumu kanıtladım
Yaşamın acımasız unsurları beni kalpsiz bir canavara dönüştürmedi
Delikanlılığımı geride bırakırken bir kere cin şişeden çıktığında
Yaşamın gerçek işaretlerini yakalamak için çok hırslandım
Tamamen şaşkına dönebileceğimi düşündüğüm anlar oldu elbette
Uğursuz bir saldırıya karşılık verme anlarıyla gözlerim kamaştığında
Yüce güçler bunu bir tehdide dönüştüren yöntemleri kullandılar
İyi yetişmiş birisi olarak bilinme konusunda sıkıntılarım olabilir
Vicdanımı terk eden bir başarıyı yakalamak için coşkuyu yitirdim
En büyük utancımla ruh halime düzenleyemiyorum
Direnme duygularım artıyor ama umutsuzluk da öyle
Son savunma hattı geçildi yabancı olmayan güçler tarafından
Esinlenen düşünceler, hareketsiz zayıflıktan dolayı kaybolup gitti
Görülmeyen baskı altında ezilerek sakatlandım
Şafak vakti kötücül eylemlerin birikmiş borcu çıkıyor önüme yeniden
Garipten acayibe giderken ufuk bulanıklaşıyor
Açık gözler insanlığın keşfini yapabilirdi oysa
Bilgelik şaman ruhlar tarafından saygı görüyordu bir zamanlar
Çözülmemiş suçlar sorusu hala yanıtsız bekliyor
Pişmanlık duymayan bir yaratık olarak anlamaya çalışıyorum
Şimdi harekete geçmişe benziyor hareketsizliğim
Ortadan yeni kaybolmuş kayıtları geri almak için…
Link of Mesut Şenol’s poetry reading:
Poem : Here You Have the Red (Turkish version)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaGwqdjikYo (Buyurun Kırmızıya – Mesut Şenol)
V.R: Thank you Mesut Şenol for joining us on Asian Signature!
M.S: You are welcome.
BIOGRAPHY: MESUT ŞENOL
Mesut Şenol Graduated from the Political Science Faculty of the Ankara University. He earned his Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Public Relations. He Served as District Governor,
Vice-Governor and Mayor in various regions of Turkey and worked as an editor at the Directorate General for Press and Information, and produced and presented programs for TRT and some private TV channels. He also Served as Prime Ministry’s PR Division Head and Prime Ministry Advisor responsible for international Institutions and Organizations. He has had seven poetry collections published and many of his poetry and literary translations have appeared in national and foreign literary publications and anthologies. He is a freelance translator and instructor on public relations, communications, public speaking and voluntarism. He often attends a number of national and international poetry and literary festivals in his country and abroad, and acts as an organizer for some of them. An Honour Prize laureate of Naji Naaman’s Literary Prizes 2011, Meut Senol is a member of many national and international professional organizations. He is part of the Executive Board of the Three Seas (Baltic Sea, Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea) Writers and Translators Council headquartered in Rhodes to serve for three years. He teaches at the Communications Faculty of Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul.
Vatsala Radhakeesoon:- Associate Editor of Asian Signature.