The Poetry of Muhsin Ilyas Subaşı

An interview with Muhsin Ilyas Subaşı 

by Katharine Branning, August, 2006

- At what age did you first start writing poetry?

I remember being interested in poetry as a young child.  I wrote my first poem when I was 14 years old, and I was first published when I was 18.


- What do you remember about poetry in school when you were a child?

When I was a child, I read the poetry of the better-known Turkish poets to become better acquainted with poetry.


- What are the roots of your interest in poetry and what drew you to poetry in the first place?

First of all, let me explain a conviction of mine: one does not “become” a poet as an afterthought or because one decides to be one later on. If one is born with the temperament of a poet and accepts this potential in himself, he can develop it by working on his writing skills.  Then and only then he can become a poet. I must have had such a potential because when I would read a poem, or listen to its adaptation to music, its graceful expressions would catch and hold my attention. To be able to evoke so many things in such short sentences is something that interested me and has led me to becoming a poet myself.


- Which poets influenced you?  Who are your poetic heros?

When I was young, I considered as my poetic heros the voices of the common Turkish man: Karacaoğlan in the Turkish folk poetry tradition, Mevlana and Yunus Emre among the mystical poets, and in the modern era, the poetry of Yahya Kemal and Necip Fazıl. I have also read and followed several of the most influential poets of the West.


- How did you get published for the first time? 

I published my first collection of poetry in 1968.  At that time I was the director of a local literary magazine.  I thus found myself in a position to be able to publish my won work, and that is what I did. The next two volumes of my poetry were published in the same way.  Then other poems were published by different editors.  My collection of poems entitled “Sevdakar” was published by the National Ministry of Education and sold over 8,000 copies in two printings.


- How did choose your pen name Selçuk Yurdagül ?

Our very existence as a nation today owes a great debt to the Seljuks. They came from the steppes of Eastern Asia to the plains of Anatolia and established here a great empire, creating the components of an important civilisation. Because of this, I feel a great respect for the Seljuk Empire and assumed the name “Selçuk” as testimony to this esteem.  I then chose the name “Yurdagul” (a rose for my homeland) to underline the beauty of my country.....and thus the name “Selçuk Yurdagül” was born.


- What draws you to express yourself through poetry today? Has it always remained the same?

Poetry is a means to lead people to the truth. When I write poetry, it is my desire not only to bring my yearnings to life, but also to attract others to this mutual emotional sphere. This is the same motivation today as when I first started to write.


- Do other activities or tastes in your life have the same hold on you as poetry (teaching, history, music, etc)?

No, they do not. The fulfilling pleasure I get from poetry and the one I get from areas such as novels, music, history and teaching are incomparable. Poetry takes me to a mystical world, and when I am left alone with my feelings, I can listen to myself.  I write my poems for myself, and also for all those of the entire world.  Poetry is a part of me, and no other activity can provide me such delight.


- What is important enough to write poetry about?

The major theme of my poetry is love. I give strong importance to the concepts of love which seem to be disappearing, such as love of God, love of fellow man, tolerance, peace, generosity.  These are all components of the love that I write about. I believe that man will prevail as long as he protects such virtues.  That is why I think of poetry as an invitation, an invitation to these merits.


- What are the major themes in your poetry?

In order to write about something, that something has to trigger my curiosity and interest. No poet can produce a successful poem if he does not embrace the matter he is writing about, if the matter does not touch and capture him. I am the same. Poems are born from the themes which turn my emotions inside out, that is the truth of the matter.


- Do you have any themes that obsess you?

My thoughts are continually occupied by the themes of misunderstanding among men, the futile struggles and incompatibilities, wars, and mercilessness.  My poems reflect my troubled thoughts on these emotions.  If there is love and brotherhood, why must there be strife?


- There seems to be a strong place in your work for nature, God, and homeland.  Do you believe this is typical for Turkish poets?

Nature, God and homeland hold in fact a very special place in Turkish poetry, and that is probably why these themes come back persistently in my own work. But Turkish poetry is of course not only based on these ideas. I see the poet, even if he is not necessarily a religious poet, as the closest human being to God, and that is why metaphysical shiver has always been in the foreground of my work. One who loves God, one who loves nature, loves human beings. Sovereignty is the first rule to free thinking, and love of the nation is important to reach that.


- What compels you to write your poetry? Visual, emotional or intellectual images?

What compels me to write my poetry are emotions. But this can evolve from a situation I have encountered, or I can be influenced from someone else’s experiences. It is up to my intellectual capacity to make it a solid writing.


Do you write for children and adults? How do the two differ?

The aim of my work is to narrate to adults the beauties surrounding us. But children have had an important place in my poems because of their innocence and purity, and I can say comfortably that I include children into my poems more than any other Turkish poet. There is always a part for children in all of my books. Children come from one nation. As they grow, we make them resemble us by taking their purity and innocence, and that is what I am trying to communicate to adults.


- You worked as a journalist while continuing to make a full-time career in poetry. How do you think your journalism background influences your writing? 

Journalism is a dynamic career and helps you observe and know people more than anything. When you get to know people through their sorrows, joys, helplessness and success, this creates a lot more material to write about.


- You have also written 3 novels and 1 play.  How does the discipline for writing these compare with poetry?

Novels and plays contain matters outside the confined grounds of poetry. When you cannot give life’s details through poetry, you move on to theatre and novels to be able to evoke those crucial points. I gravitated toward writing novels in order to cover “life” to the fullest. This has in no way had a negative effect on the sensibility in my poems.


- As you are so strongly attracted to words, how do you feel about the way language is being used in today's world?

Language is the main component of poetry. The poet is the goldsmith of language.  You can only write good poetry if you use the language correctly. While the poet enriches the language, the language in turn elevates the poet. From this point of view, one who does not pay enough attention to words can in no way be a good poet...


Do you have a Muse? Do you think of your Muse in personal terms?  Are there times when the Muse is most prone to visit? That is to say what is the source of your poetry?  From where do the poems come?

My feelings and my ideals are the sources of inspiration for my poems. I give great importance to those mystical individuals who have been leaders to society; the great prophets, Mevlana, and Yunus Emre. I have visited the tombs of the prophet Muhammed, Mevlana and Yunus Emre.


- Have you been translated and published in other countries?

Some of my poems have been translated into English, German and Arabic. Some have been published in Egypt, Germany and Azerbaijan.


- What time of the day do you write? Where do you write?  With what kind of pen and paper ?

I usually pick the silence of the night. The study room at my summer house facing Mount Erciyes provides me with the most productive ambiance. The books surrounding me in my study room, the outdoors, the extravagant beauty of God’s nature, and the view onto the summit of Mount Erciyes always engage my emotions and guide them. Earlier in my career I used plain white paper and a pen, now I work on the computer.


- Have you ever been touched by a human catalyst? (the kind who wander into your life, or perhaps just accidentally wander through your space, leave completely unchanged by you, but somehow, by their presence or words or actions, change you profoundly. People in the flesh, not famous people, ordinary people. This could be something dramatic or something simple, but it must be somebody who gave you a new worldview.) I'd like to hear about one or some catalyst experiences you've had.

There are some whose actions, words, writings or poems have made an impression on me. But more so than ordinary people, it is extraordinary people who fascinate me. I try to learn from people of foreign cultures, try to get various new impressions from them, because I see these differences as wealth. I do not consider these foreigners as ordinary people. For instance, I have to admit that you have influenced me. I have seen that even though we come from different cultures, we have much in common. These resemblances have awakened me to understand that the essence of God that is in man since his creation is the same in everyone.


Does poetry, by its very nature, place the poet outside the modern herd, just as shamans found themselves a step apart from the tribe? Do you feel your poetry separates you or unites you to those around you?

If we think of modernity as a consumption craze, then yes, poetry, by its nature is outside this modern understanding of life. Poetry does not like comfort. Poetry is in longing for a mystical world, while the modern life feeds from ambitious consumption. This next point is important too: development is different from modernization. My poetry is open to development. The lifestyle surrounding me and the world my poetry desires are not too different. Despite all this, I do not consider my work to be a reflection of daily life. In my poems, I offer humanity an ideal lifestyle.


- Why do you think poetry in schools or life matters?           

Poetry helps people to encounter the language of the heart. For that, the poet is an instructor to society. His importance ever more important because poetry can be a way leading to peace and tolerance, and so the poet becomes a guide. This is the reason why I continue writing poems.


- What are you writing at the moment?

I have just finished a novel about the great Turkish architect Sinan. My ninth collection of poems will be published soon.  At the moment, inspired by the comments of Western intellectuals on the Turkish and Islamic culture and civilization, I have finished two works entitled “As the Western world gets to know the Turk” and “As the Western world gets to know Islam”.  I hope they will be published in the near future. UNESCO has declared 2007 to be the year of Mevlana, in celebration of the 800th anniversary of his birth. One of my works that I am still working on is about Mevlana. I will call it “Mevlana in the West”...


- What is your favorite poem?

Would a father be able to choose between his children? More important than my own loving of them, there are some of my poems who have been chosen for anthologies, and are loved by others. I will leave the task of choosing a favorite to you.


Thank you for your interest.


View onto Mount Erciyes from the writer's studio (Photo courtesy of Muhsin Ilyas Subaşi)










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