Born in Limassol in 1953
Filiz Naldöven has left us,
has left the garden of Life. Her poetry stays with us. I am deeply moved. I had
the chance to talk to her a couple of times and the last time I spoke to her
was on the launch of her new book filled with memories. She loved the cherries
I had given her on that occasion.
Who was she, how did she
grow up. Here is my interview included in my book ‘Art and Creativity in North
Cyprus, Volume II, her life story which I think is important to know in order
to understand her poetry. Filiz was the epitome of a poet, the air she breathed
was poetry for her….
Questioning life, endlessly
The Flower of Identity
First we distilled sorrow from bitter oranges
Scattered it after deaths into the days
Then we distilled sorrow from the tea of the island
Gave our blood to a peaceful warmth
Then we distilled sorrow from the myrtles
Shed bitter loves from our eyes
Then we distilled sorrow from the olives
Churned it in black oil mills
Then we distilled sorrow from grapes
Woke up drunk crimson blood into the nights
Later sorrow distilled itself
And settled on our collar the flower of identity
Filiz Naldöven - June 1987
Translated by Aydin Mehmet Ali
The poet. Walking to find a
goal, picking up thoughts from under her feet, catching a word the wind carries
towards her, entering the physical body of a found love letter. Fragments,
accidental, you think, but of great importance for the structure of the poem
which forms in these moments. Filiz, the bud in Turkish, stands for the time of
spring, for rebirth. And she is constantly rebirthing herself with a certain
apprehension about life, scouring its whole width between beginning and end,
life and death. This is a woman of
silent passions, surrendering herself , wanting to know, with heart and soul, in a desperate struggle for answers right
to the very edge of impotence and exhaustion.
Filiz Naldöven was born in
1953 in Limassol, in the troublesome times of her country. Her mother was an
only child, and was not sent to school after she reached nine because in those
days it was not considered proper that a girl in her teens with her growing
breasts should leave the house to go to school.
It was her brother who taught her the basics and, she told me, she
picked up every tiny piece of printed paper to practice what she had learnt
from her brother. So, eventually, she
was able to read. Then she became a very good reader. She used to write
wonderful letters to her friends.
“My father was a blacksmith
and also a worker in the harbour, very handsome and strong, and he was a good
father to me. Unlike my mother, he never had the
chance to learn how to read, because he lost his parents when he was a child
and he grew up with his grandmother. His grandmother was afraid to send him to
school because she thought he would be too vulnerable, being an orphan.”
Filiz was a quiet child,
withdrawn. There were books to keep her
company. Students coming back from Ankara filled the gap, brought back books
that nobody had seen before – not only children’s books but banned books and
classics; so much to learn. Books that showed her the life she had not known.
For instance, when she was thirteen, her cousin, Mustafa Akıncı brought her
several volumes of poetry by Nazım Hikmet, which were banned in Turkey. In school,
she started writing compositions and poems for the school newsletter and soon
her teachers became aware of the quality of what she wrote. “Later, when I was
at high school, my literature teacher read one of my poems once, and she said:
You think you want to become a poet? But you are one already!” I hadn’t
realized that myself, so I thought about it again and again. I didn’t know what
it meant, to be a poet, and when I figured it out, it was too late!” And so said her English teacher, Mr.
McDonald, who made her translate her work into English, and then exclaimed,
“Yes, you really are a poet!” Did she do
any other art work such as painting, music or theatre, I ask her. “Not really,
I loved painting though for a time, when I was between 15 and 18 years because
I had a very good art teacher, Mr Yilmaz Hakeri. But in general, I have always been keen on
all kinds of art. I always read whatever I could find. When I was a high school
student, I was influenced by poets like Nazım Hikmet, Atilla İlhan and Orhan Veli.
After that period, the influence was lifted. When I look back now, I can
recognize my rhythm even in my early poems. Some of my work was also published
in a literature magazine called Kemeraltı
which was printed in Limassol. I was too shy to publish my poems back then,
but my friends forced me to, and they even created a nickname for me! The
nickname was Özinç Hamlet, made up by mixing the names of my friends. After
this incident, I started sending my poems to newspapers, like Halkın Sesi and Bozkurt, and Radio Çukurova
using the same nickname. My father heard about this from a friend, and he was
offended because I had not told him what I had done, and because I hadn’t used
my family name, Filiz Sıtkı. Then I sent a poem to the newspaper using my own
name; my father saw it … and I lost him shortly after this. ”
“In the years that followed,
I started to ask myself the big questions of life. There were so many things I
could not find any answers for and when I finally found an answer, more
questions popped up instead.” Like Hydra
the monstrous snake with nine heads which grew anew when chopped off. “I cannot say that I managed to cope with
these questions. I was mostly depressed at the time, which was why I was asking
myself all these philosophical and metaphysical questions. I questioned the
rights and wrongs of the life we lead, and I had no one to help me. The books I read and my thoughts were pushing
me away from everything else.”
The Fool Kid
Neither I know how to believe in god
Nor to humbly wait
Crucified by my beliefs
Translated by Aslı Konaç
“In 1972, my father died of
a cerebral haemorrhage. I was shocked and depressed for months. I went to
Istanbul in the same year to study philosophy at the Istanbul Teachers Faculty
Department of Philosophy and my mother came to stay with me. I could not leave
her behind.” Why did she choose this discipline? I ask. “I hoped to find
answers for my deep anxieties, to build a bridge between the world of dreams I
was imprisoned in and reality. My legs were not long enough to do the bridging
myself. I also studied psychology and
sociology to do research in the experts’ fields.
“In Istanbul everything was
new to me with access to all the books I wanted to read, at least those which
were translated. I was the only Cypriot in those days at my faculty.”
Then something happened in
Filiz’s life which shattered her belief in everything.
“It was in July 1974 that I
went to Cyprus to spend my holidays in Limassol with my relatives. I was
staying in my uncle’s house on July 20 when the fighting in our area began. We
escaped to the basement, all the family members and friends. It was so hot and
full of people, we were at least 15, and
the fear also made us sweat. Suddenly I remembered that I had left my handbag and
my poetry book up in the kitchen and – since my collection of poems was the
only treasure I had – I climbed the stairs and crawled to the table to get my
things and stuffed the book under my sweatshirt and on the way back, I stumbled
on the stairs and my book fell. My uncle realized what had happened and scolded
me severely for having risked my safety. For a simple book! He told me that I
should tear it apart and distribute the sheets so that we could fan ourselves
as it was so stiflingly hot down there in the dark. So I tore my book apart. It was the end for
me. After some time, I understood that my uncle was in a different state of
mind, caused by the war. I did not see that then. From that moment for six
years I could not write a single poem.” Were they all lost for good? I ask.
“No, most of it I picked up later and kept.
It was only much later that I took any notice of them again. I was in a
sort of shock.” That must have been a
nightmare to live through. “It was as if life
had stopped in those times, and so had poetry, too.” “This suffering I went through was a kind of
bleeding of my soul to me and writing poems helped me heal. I had this sorrow
inside for years and since the1980’s, I have been writing all about it. Until
now.” After 1974, I believed that war
was the cruelest thing of all and I stood up against it along with all the
In 1977, Filiz concluded her
studies at the university in Istanbul and returned to Cyprus, to the north of
the island now, to Kyrenia, where she started to teach philosophy, psychology,
sociology and ethics at Lapta Yavuzlar High School. She was living in Karakum
with her mother. Kyrenia held some
attraction for her, and some sadness. “I
moved to Kyrenia because of the war. Kyrenia was
a city which was like a stepmother to me, and never made me happy. I never felt
Songs about Love, she said
A little girl in Kyrenia,
Moonlight to the eye, companion to the
Said, “Write songs about love.”
To me, to the woman condemned to pace
Through her body, forgotten by love.
Unaware of the dirty overflow in the
The harbour a filthy rope wrapped
Around my neck.
Who said snails are luminous?
A little girl in Kyrenia
With her sweet doll’s mouth open,
“Write songs about love”, she said.
Unaware of the carcass piles of crow
In airless boxes on wheels,
Place a knot above suffocation in my
I threaten Kyrenia and it threatens me,
Knowing our roads will never meet
But intersect. We are still unaware.
“Write songs about love”, she said
A little girl with essence of honey
Still at the first crossroads of love
Pain loaded ships, snake in my heart.
“Where is love?”, I said.
Either I have become too purified or too
by Aydin Mehmet Ali
“The girl in the poem is one
of my students, a young girl who asked me to write songs about love. It felt as
if I was asking myself. During the time of war something had happened inside
me, something had broken open, my character had changed, and I thought much
more about humanity and politics, about right and wrong, about justice. The
daily ignorance broke my heart and still does….
and I have a fragile heart.” She had been feeling lost and unhappy, a
foreigner to herself, and she only very slowly recovered. “It was my little
daughter who taught me to walk again, to walk in more than the obvious meaning
of the word.”
But she was very creative in
those years. “Six years after my nightmare in 1974 in Limassol I had started
writing again, looking back at past writings, to the torn pieces of that
particular day in my uncle’s house, with the pen of a changed personality. So I
published my first poetry book in 1987 ‘Sevgidendoğma’.
In 1984, I participated in a play-writing competition. One year later my play ‘Köşede Durmak’ won second prize in a competition held by Nicosia
Municipality and was put on stage by the Nicosia Municipality Theatre, directed
by Erol Refikoğlu. It was about immigration and opportunism.” Who were the actors in the play, I ask. “The
actors were Osman Alkaş, Erol Refikoğlu
and Işin Cem, a very good team.” The
play is mentioned in the book about the history of Lefkoşa Municipality Theatre
written by Yaşar Ersoy, I tell her. “Oh yes, Yaşar Ersoy is my friend, we used
to live in the same street in Limassol.
The play was published in the book ‘Oyunlar
84’ and it was performed on other stages in Turkey and London. There is another piece I have written but I
want to do some more work on it. A piece about connecting the present and the
past, about traditions and feelings, a piece presented in letters.”
Poems, or rather the process
of writing poetry has determined Filiz’s course of life.
“Pain announces a new poem,
like a birth pang, and with it come forebodings. This accumulation of high
energy in the process of creation is followed by something happening. Then I
know I am creating a poem, I have visions, forebodings. Poetry is also prophecy
for me; I write what I have been through and what is to be. I know that from
I rarely change the words of
a poem I have written, that would wound the soul of it.”
Author’s Note: The interview was conducted in 2012/2013
Publications and activities:
She published ‘Sevgidendoğma’ (poetry), in 1987. She
attended a conference in London, presenting a paper about Literature in Turkish
Cypriot Theatre also in 1987. Later, that paper was published in the book “The
Identity of Turkish Cypriot in Literature”. Some of her poems were translated
into English, Greek and German.
‘Mağma Mavera’ (poetry) was published by Işık Kitabevi
‘Sevgidendoğma’ was also included in ‘Mağma Mavera’.
‘Mağma Mavera’ also includes 3 more books, ‘Başlayarak Mermerin Yarasından’,
‘Kon…Gü…’, and ‘Öl Beni’.
‘Aşk Beni Yıka’ (poetry) was published by Peyak
Yayınları in 1999. The book won the ‘Türk Bankası’ art prize in 2000.
2000-2005 workshops with young poets. (named Şiir
She taught creative writing at the Near East
University for a year.
1996– 2000 articles Yeni Düzen
Afrika Gazetesi, criticism, ironical language
She is now writing a book about past war and
immigration, in the form of letters to the woman who is living in her house in
Limassol, ‘Letters to Paraskevi’.
2013 : Hafizali Doku – Souvenirs Poems 1999-2012
published by Khora, Nicosia