Birhan Keskin

(b. 1963)

Birhan Keskin graduated from Istanbul University with a degree in Sociology. Her first poems began to appear in 1984. From 1995 to 1998 she was joint editor of the small magazine Göçebe and worked as an editor for a number of prominent publishing houses in Istanbul. She has published over seven collections of poetry in Turkish. She has seen a collection of critical responses to her poetry published – Birhan Keskin Şiiri ve Ba (2008) (Birhan Keskin: Poetry and Ba) – and a detailed critical analysis of her poems by Veysi Erdogan, Aklın Azabı: Birhan Keskin Şiirinde Hatıra Medeniyeti (2012) (The Pain of Reason: the Civilisation of Memory in Birhan Keskin’s Poetry). Birhan Keskin was the 2005 winner of Turkey’s prestigious Golden Orange Award and in 2011 received the Metin Altiok Poetry Award. Two book-length translations of Birhan Keskin’s poems into English appeared in & Silk & Love & Flame translated by George Messo in 2013 and Y’ol by Murat Nemet-Nejat in 2018. As George Messo states, ‘in an artistic culture traditionally dominated by men, Birhan Keskin is one of a growing number of women poets […] who have risen to prominence since the mid 1990s for their bold, challenging verse’ (10-11). Deeply rooted in the tangible world, Birhan Keskin’s poetry still describes a strong spiritual connection with the beloved. Her short but striking lines hit the reader with the depth of a Neoplatonic cosmos. 

Four poems (‘Door’, ‘Sun … Star’, ‘Plain’ and ‘Leaf’)

Of the four poems, ‘Door’ and ‘Sun … Star’ are conversations with the beloved which convey the suffering and waiting of the protagonist on earth. Like a dervish she waits patiently, and endures the pain, in the hope that she will find peace in the end.

‘Plain’ and ‘Leaf’ can be read as narratives of creation and transformation. Exhausted by suffering, the protagonist either becomes one with nature or creates her own beloved from the vestiges of her own self. For her, this is the only way to struggle with the pain of existence and separation from the beloved. 

The four poems are discussed by Neslihan Demirkol and Mehmet Kalpakı in their chapter ‘The New Image of the Beloved in the Old Mirror: Reflections on the Neoplatonic Tradition in Modern Turkish Poetry’ (see FoI447-50).

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For ‘Kapı’, ‘Yaprak’ and ‘Ova’ see Birhan Keskin (2005), Kim Bağışlayacak Beni, (Istanbul: Metis Yayınları),   © Metis Yayınları. For ‘Guneş … Yıldız’ see Birhan Keskin 2005), Ba (Istanbul: Metis Yayınları), © Metis Yayınları. English translations from Birhan Keskin (2013), & Silk & love & flame, translated by George Messo, introduced by Amanda Dalton ( Todmorden, UK , Arc Publications). Copyright © George Messo.