Heidi Trautmann

875: Filiz NALDÖVEN Poet - In memoriam



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 other injustices.”


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 happy there.”


Write Songs about Love, she said

A little girl in Kyrenia,

Moonlight to the eye, companion to the heart

Said, “Write songs about love.”


To me, to the woman condemned to pace Kyrenia

Through her body, forgotten by love.

Unaware of the dirty overflow in the streets,

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 choirs

In airless boxes on wheels,

Place a knot above suffocation in my heart.


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 corrupted.

F.Naldöven, 1988

Translated 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 experience.

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 in 1994.

‘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 Atölyesi)

She taught creative writing at the Near East University for a year.

1996– 2000 articles Yeni Düzen

2006-2008  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



Photos I took during my interview with her
Photos I took during my interview with her

Launch of her last book at Khora Bookstore Nicosia
Launch of her last book at Khora Bookstore Nicosia

Yasar Ersoy commenting on her work
Yasar Ersoy commenting on her work

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