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This review is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

THE SECOND NEW Ikinci Yeni: The Turkish Avant-Garde, edited and translated by George Messo (Shearsman) £10.95

The adoption of Latin script in the wake of the setting up of Ataturk’s republic marked a particularly devastating break with the past for Turkish culture, rendering much of what had been written hitherto inaccessible for the reading public. Nazim Hikmet, who spent the years from 1921 to 1924 in the Soviet Union, introduced free verse as an alternative to the syllabic metres inherited from folk poetry which were commonly used by poets at that time. From 1941 the ‘Stranger’ movement built on Hikmet’s innovations and marked a further rupture with the past, concentrating on everyday language and subjects with considerable popular appeal.

George Messo’s anthology features the next wave of innovators, literally the ‘Second New’, even if the poets directly concerned expressed more than once their opposition to being grouped together in this fashion. He translates five, leaving aside Sezai Karakoc (1933– ). Complex, inscrutable, capricious and inventive, the poems he has chosen suggest that, where Turkey is concerned, links to European literature pass first and foremost via Paris. A wilful, at times impenetrable subjectivity evokes the experiments of the Surrealists, while the faded charm with which urban Bohemians are portrayed makes one think of French ‘chanson’.

The haunting and evocative surrealism that characterises the verse of Ece Ayhan (1931–2002) gives a heightened effect to the simple details of everyday life scattered here and there. His is a coded poetry, perhaps the effect of a typically modernist indifference to the reader’s difficulties in understanding ...

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