Ayşegül Tözeren

A collage essay on Turkish visual poetry (history) 2.1*
               (Translated by Ege Ertan)
When the gap between poetry and life widened and neared breaking point, visual poetry appeared on the public poetry agenda and revealed that poeticalness, in other words, "poet pose" was the reason for this break. The poet assumed a pose and criticized, from both inside and out, the state of poetry.

Ayşegül Tözeren

"Visual Poetry is obviously not something invented by the Zinhar/Poetikhars circle. Modern Visual Poetry is usually traced back through and to Stéphane Mallarmé, Lewis Carroll, early 20th-century Dadaism, Futurism experiments in Italy and Russia, and Anglo-American modernists such as the British Vorticist group and E. E. Cummings (see Drucker 1999, p. 102). Their works, which began with the visual manipulation of poetic text, language, letters, words, and images, were motivated by the political and aesthetic concerns of the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. They experimented with both old and new digital technologies and addressed the increasing strength of visual culture, sometimes as an international issue, often diversified with local poetic traditions and tendencies (Drucker 1999:100-101)."
[Gökçen Ertuğrul: Visual Poetry as a Possibility: Beginning Thoughts. Yasakmeyve 28, Visual Poetry issue]

When we analyze the history of Turkish visual and concrete poetry, two names warrant attention: Yüksel Pazarkaya with his experience of concrete poetry that began in the 1950s-1960s, and then Tarık Günersel with his pursuit of this field.

In his interview with Yüksel Pazarkaya (Sözcüklerin Doğasında Gezmek/Travelling in the Nature of Words) Enver Ercan asks: "By the way, I'll ask you immediately: You are perhaps the only Turkish poet of the concrete poetry movement. What was concrete poetry, why did you take part in it, what contributions did it make to poetry?"

The points that Pazarkaya made in his response are as follows:
"Just as Dada is a literary and linguistic reaction to the disgrace of the First World War, concrete poetry is an international movement that arises from the reaction to the Nazi era, the Nazis' abuse of language and the disasters of the Second World War. However, its birthplace is Germany, especially Stuttgart. From Japan to the United States, from Brazil to Czechoslovakia, many other countries of the world have participated in this movement and it has became international. The concept of a Stuttgart School has emerged because the theory of this movement is based upon the writings of Max Bense, who was a philosophy, aesthetics, semiotics and science theory professor at the University of Stuttgart and also participated in the practice with his own texts. In 1953, Eugen Gomringer used the concept of concrete poetry (konkrete poesie) for the first time.

"As for me, in 1959, I started to attend Max Bense's lectures, seminars and collegiums, exhibitions as part of the Studium Generale, and suddenly I fell into the Stuttgart School. I'm a very young poet candidate. On the one hand, I write concrete essays, and on the other hand I write in the understanding of poetry that I know. In a short time, these two attitudes began to affect and communicate with each other. My first book Koca Sapmalarda Biz Vardık (1968) and especially my second book Umut Dolayları (1969) are full of examples of this composition.

"I published the first writings in Turkey which mentioned this movement illustratively in Yeni Asır and especially in Gençlik magazine. In the sixties, my concrete poems were included in many international anthologies, especially from Germany, America, Japan, Czechoslovakia and Holland, and some museums that collect concrete poems. In 1996, at the end of my book Somut Şiir (Concrete Poetry), I included a bibliography of some of these anthologies.

"Concrete poetry can be seen in two distinct branches: acoustic and visual. My studies are generally visual examples. And even in the text I wrote using a single letter (eg with the letter ö) there is a communal leaning. The same attitude is also seen in Brazilian representatives, for example in the texts of Haraldo de Campos. I think our attitude is related to the situation and problems of our own societies."

In 1990, Talat Sait Halman wrote about Tarık Günersel, and drew attention to his concrete and micro poems:
"Günersel, who is truly unique, went far beyond the most daring discoveries of Modern Turkish Poetry and he has generated studies on the extreme points of post-modernism, concrete poetry, computer aesthetics, post-deconstructionism and grammatology."
More recently, we see that Turkey found a mother lode of visual poetry in the 2000s: Zinhar. It was founded in 2003. Serkan Işın, the founder of Zinhar, described it with the following words:

"Zinhar showed up as an objection to the masses of readers and writers who published something on the Internet under the name of "poetry", capitalized on and McDonaldized poetry's imprudence after the 90s, its history and objective. This objective firstly aimed to draw attention to the fact that "poems cannot be exhibited in this way," and the tension between the impermeability and closure of the literary public —as we know it— and the surfer or the clear traveler, who are positioned directly opposite it. But we have seen that this tension arises both from problems with the wheels of the public (especially the 80th generation) and from the disappearance or change of society's perception of poetry. In fact, we also noticed that both sides showed amiss reactions to things that changed. As a result, we think that oral/written poetry culture may have little effect against the "written/visual" culture instruments that both corrupt and form us in all areas of our lives. Therefore, zinhar.com and Poetikhars began to visualize the "personal experience" in both printed and electronic media and search new paths in the the history of poetry by subjecting "coded" 21st century life’s codes to deconstruction."
[Serkan Işın, editor of Zinhar/Poetikhars. What is Zinhar, January 15, 2005.

Serkan Işın

In 2005, a group of poets wrote a visual and concrete poetry guide and published it in Zinhar. The poets who prepared the guide and contributed to it by adding new things after its first edition are Serkan Işın, Barış Özgür, Volkan Çelebi, Ali Ömer Akbulut, Deniz Tuncel, Şakir Özüdoğru, Efe Murad and Suzan Sarı. The guide was also included in Necmi Selamet's book called Şiirimizde Manifestolar (Manifestos in our Poetry) in 2007.

A quotation from Zinhar Visual and Concrete Poetry Guide:
"Visual or concrete poetry is a new experience in terms of putting lost techniques into place. The state opens "writing's" doors, firstly as part of its job, thereafter for its self interest. While teaching this technology, it also combines some painting tools that will affect your development in figurative field with writing and affect you when words start to flourish. There is no other time that painting and calligraphy classes get so close. It starts with old technologies such as calligraphy notebooks, inkwells, and divits (a pen-case with inkwell, worn in the girdle by scribes), and for the first time the bond between the shapes and the meaning of the letters is established. Then it deteriorates before they become mature. In this way, our vocalic and visual information about meaning of the "a" letter is jumbled. Stationery also becomes involved in as part of a calligraphy lesson under favour of writing templates, sticking letters, uniformity of shapes and accuracy of proportions. Thus, writing is "corrected" by drawing with the participation of both public and private sectors. This traumatic effect then emerges with a terrible repetition of the letters in the various layers of consciousness. The suggestion is, as a therapeutic method, to try poetry again with those tools. To relive the experience with tools such as lettering stencils, rope prints, potato prints, inkwell, divit, etc. This combination of the hidden energies of language and technique is the most genuine show of visual poetry.

"The demand of unity in visual and concrete poetry, which is the dream of the heterotopic, is only fiction. It sets a possibility at the limit of impossibility which is/is not the only way of finding immortality in itself. And there, in the spaces and the filled places of the page that tries to cross the visual of the plane, in the endless course of things/objects that make the notion of representation more than just a mirror and do not include it directly on the page (but make you think), soul finds its own exaltation. This course reunites human, language, subconscious and pre-linguistic with things and imagination and truth mix with each other at the peaks of -letters, broken lines- and tension. We must love and preserve the poetry in our minds because it is something that must always be overcome, like human (reference to: Zarathustra). In this process, the perspectives are broken towards an upper image of time and space, the human, who is the existence in there, is now involved in his/her own image: this is the visual and concrete poem, the spiritual dimension of the work, it settles between mind and irrational.

"Visual poetry is direct. Whether the use of letters, words, punctuation marks, a line, a curve or an object forms a typographic image as an iconic sign (ie. there is similarity with the object) or a symbolic sign (ie. there is an arbitrary relation with the object) , it makes people read itself both by including and excluding the eye’s given ways of reading and seeing. It expands the field of expression by enabling us to deny the accepted coexistence of letters in the general use of language and to transform them into new parts of a new whole that can form new meanings in line with our own subjectivity. It creates a movement under all circumstances and requires the reader to participate in it. It inserts a vector on the letters to the extent that it breaks the static forms of the words. Thus, visual poetry eventually turns into a compound which completes it. Visual poetry makes it possible for both the performer and the reader to swallow as much as a word." **
Poetikhars.com, the official website of Poetikhars magazine, which was the main vein of visual poetry after Zinhar, was founded in 2006 by Serkan Işın. The site gave a place for discussions about contemporary Visual Poetry, daily blog posts, and visual poetry series from poets.

Since Hars was founded, with its translations, biblio section, blog posts and memes, it has became a portal that starts online discussions about not only visual poetry but also other poetry works produced in Turkey. Especially, the fact that blog posts are more subject to discussions in printed journals than the sites established under the name of poetry on the internet, the responses to various articles, and the acceptance the site as a reference tool, all show the importance of the site for the poetry environment. Visual Poems are included on the website under the name of İş Defteri (workbook) and the site serves the poets as a living environment with a preference for the digital rather than the printed media. Permanent poets of the site are Ayşegül Tözeren, Barış Çetinkol, Derya Vural, Zeynep Cansu Başeren and Serkan Işın. Since 2009, the visual poems of Liman Mehmetcihat have also appeared on the website. Apart from the founding members of the site, an important contribution comes from practitioners like Derya Önder and Elif Şandan.

In 2009, poets of Poetikhars site also published Hertz fanzines. Visual poems, writings and interviews were also included in fanzine. Poetikhars also created a library, which contains the following e-books: Tutunma Makinası (Zeynep Cansu Başeren), Görsel Sindirim (Derya Vural), Barış Çetinkol Görsel Şiir Kitabı, Ve De Ki (Serkan Işın).

In addition, the poetic yield that began around Poetikhars attracted the attention of other literary journals. A Visual Poetry folder was included in 8. Issue of Siyahi Magazine in 2006.

"The happening, which we now define as visual poetry, has emerged as a move to shake both foundation and roof of Turkish epic and lyric poetry, whose priority is the voice. I called it "the happening", because its parameters left/will leave an indelible, argumentative and unpalatable impression on Turkish poetry. In fact, the boundaries between epic and lyrical in Turkish poetry are not so sharp. The mythicizing feature of the epic has often been mixed up with the exhilarating feature of lyrical poetry, and both poems build their structures with sound priority. While epic poetry introduces repetition and metonymic elements into poetry with acoustic resonance, the image and symbol in the lyric poetry (which is disposed to be absoluted in epic poetry) are guided by a natural voice. Both types of poetry derive their existence and legitimacy from the conditions of their time. Epic poetry and lyrical poetry have also emerged with new faces by changing and developing since ancient times. A mixture or distinction of two types of poetry may have a universalizing nature, but becoming conditioned to the existence of two types of poetry is like falling into the same boiler repeatedly. Such a prioritization is not possible for the poet or the artist."
[Murat Üstübal, Görsel Şiir Üzerine (About Visual Poetry), Siyahi Magazine 8. Issue, Görsel Şiir Dosyası (Visual Poetry Feature)]

Derya Vural

PLATFORMA, a project created as a result of the collaboration of international writers and poets, announced that it devoted the exhibition in September 2006 to Asian Visual Poetry. Serkan Işın, Ayşegül Tözeren, Derya Vural, Deniz Tuncel and Suzan Sarı participated in the exhibition in Russia and the exhibition took place in early 2007. In this period, in the 3rd issue of Otoliths, Ayşegül Tözeren's and Serkan Işın's poems from the Dada Korkut series were included. In the next issue, both Suzan Sarı's solo poems and her works with Jukka-Pekka Kervinen were included. Ayşegül Tözeren's poems were on the cover of this issue.

A year later, Monokl magazine also prepared a visual poetry file. Ayşegül Tözeren, Barış Çetinkol, Barış Özgür, Zafer Yalçınpınar, Davut Yücel, Ali Ömer Akbulut, Derya Vural, Suzan Sarı, Deniz Tuncel and Özcan Türkmen participated.

In the same year, Yasakmeyve magazine published a Visual Poetry Issue. Along with this issue, a book named Gürültülü Kağıtlar (Noisy Papers), an anthology of visual poetry, was also published. The name of the book was chosen because of the article which was written by Serkan Işın as an introduction of the book. (Yazının cesedi-The corpse of the writing)

From the introduction written by Serkan Işın to Yasakmeyve Magazine, 28, Gürültülü Kağıtlar:

"The death of industrial writing and its written/printed culture lies in Visual Poetry: the corpse of the writing. This article is, of course, a picture with everything. As the silent henchmen of the billboard (which is a provocative tool within the optical vision boundaries with its glittering lights), historical information, textbook, and printing house (which produced poetry book), all the letters, all the marks prepared for getting in touch with ink, are passed through a series of stages for re-reading process of the eye in visual poetry. This is the humanization of the technique. In this sense, the visual poet can use a scanner in opposition toe its function and reverses the nature of a typewriter, a keyboard, a word-processing software. Because, the discourse area of the "techno-world" which is standing in front of us cannot be forced to making a "mistake" anywhere else except from all these tools. This means using the technology not by its passivity but by forcing it to change and disrupting it with all its effectiveness. This is the humantarian version. This means giving all the things that have been done to you back to them."

In the 48-page book are included poems from Jim Leftwich, Geof Huth, John M. Bennett, Anna Hallberg, David-Baptiste Chirot, Hakan Şarkdemir, Derya Vural, Ayşegül Tözeren, Suzan Sarı, Deniz Tuncel, M. Davut Yücel, Barış Çetinkol, Serkan Işın, Zeynep Cansu Başeren, and Nihat Özdal.

The first visual poetry book after Gürültülü Kağıtlar was Dada Korkut by Serkan Işın.

In the spring of 2009, a visual poetry exhibition called Infusoria was held in Brussels. The exhibition included participation by poets from Belgium, Canada, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States. Derya Vural, Suzan Sarı and Ayşegül Tözeren were the Turkish participants. Poems from Ayşegül Tözeren, Serkan Işın, Suzan Sarı, Deniz Tuncel, M. Davut Yücel, Nihat Özdal, Özcan Türkmen, and Derya Vural were exhibited in nokturno.org, which was edited by Marko Niemi. Thus, Turkish visual poetry had the opportunity to get in contact with Finnish visual poetry.

Ayşegül Tözeren and Zeynep Cansu Başeren participated in the third Text Festival which was organized by Tony Trehy in 2011, in Bury, England.

Lastly, Barış Çetinkol, Serkan Işın, Ayşegül Tözeren, Derya Vural, Derya Önder, Liman Mehmetcihat, Ercan y Yılmaz, Zeynep Cansu Başeren, and Hakan Şarkdemir participated in the visual poetry exhibition organized by Nico Vassilakis in 2012. In the same year, Nico Vassilakis and Crag Hill compiled the poems of 130 poets from 1998 to 2008 and published the book titled The Last Vispo Anthology. Ayşegül Tözeren, Derya Vural, Suzan Sarı and Serkan Işın's poems were included in the anthology.

In addition, Karagöz Magazine published visual poems intermittently, stating that they were interested in all kinds of positive efforts that have the power to open new fields to today’s poetry and literature. The visual poems of Serkan Işın (who is also one of the editors of the magazine), Ayşegül Tözeren and Zeynep Cansu Başeren are included in the magazine.

Ayşegül Tözeren

When Ücra poetry magazine began to be published again in 2009 after a four-year break, its 31st issue was published with a "new" logo. Serkan Işın created this logo with the new letters of his distinctive alphabet that took place in his visual poetry series titled Dada Korkut. He published visual poems by Ayşegül Tözeren, Ercan y Yılmaz, Reşit İmrahor, Münir Yenigül, Suzan Sarı, Derya Vural, Ulaş Karadağ, and Liman Mehmetcihat. Ücra magazine also gave a place to international visual poetry. Heves magazine, which ended its publishing life in 2010, was also one of the magazines that published visual poetry.

Finally, a Deneysel ve Görsel Şiir (Empirical and Visual Poetry) feature was prepared by Ayşegül Tözeren and Murat Üstübal for Kurşunkalem Magazine in 2013. Gültekin Emre, Ercan y Yılmaz, Mehmet Sarsmaz, Bülent Keçeli, Murat Çelik, Erhan Altan, Ayşegül Tözeren, Karl Kempton, Bilge Makas, Ulaş Karadağ, Rafet Arslan, and Murat Üstübal were included in the selection.

As much as visual poetry has a special place in the history of Turkey's poetry, it also has important theoretical knowledge underpinning it. However, it is debatable whether the public of poetry considers this background either efficient or sufficient. In visual poetry, language took place not only with its verbal component but also as a system of signs.

Turkey was caught unprepared for such a poetry. Reactions to visual poetry began with questions such as "Why have they rediscovered America?" and continued with reproaches such as "Poetry is gone!" In the greater world of Turkish poetry, being interested in visual poetry was perceived as destroying a career since "being poetical," which is the most important criteria in poetry environments, was rejected from the beginning. In other words, visual poetry has encountered a rare confrontation which goes beyond being criticized; and as a result of this, the poetry public reached for their oldest gun as proposed by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, assassination by silence. The creators of visual poetry are forced to criticize themselves because of that lack of criticism. Moreover, poetry was the subject of poetry in visual poetry (I could eat you up, Turkish poetry; Serkan Işın). Inevitably, visual poetry had to grow up in an atmosphere of criticism. On the other hand, our mainstream literature, where a mediocre ideology was actually the only dominant ideology, united in a sense against visual poetry. Although it stepped back after its first sharp reactions, it was only able to advance to a idea such as "First, they should prove they can write poems with lines, and then they can create visual poetry." Although visual poetry has been so much discussed, it has never found a place in the poetry yearbooks.

When heated discussions about visual poetry started in 2006, there were also narrow political approaches among criticisms. These approaches were expressed with the phrase "All of these are post-modern!" and for those who think post-modernism is a capitalist trap, the thing that was said was clear: "Is that an American plot?!" However, whilst visual poems were being discussed in these narrow local channels, Turkish visual poetry was being exhibited in St. Petersburg under the curation of leading Russian artists. Following this first exhibition, visual poetry created common areas with dissident poets living in different geographies outside of Turkey, and appeared with these poets’ works in common exhibitions.

"When the gap between poetry and life widened and neared breaking point, visual poetry appeared on the public poetry agenda and revealed that poeticalness, in other words, "poet pose" was the reason for this break.

"The poet assumed a pose and criticized, from both inside and out, the state of poetry."

[Görsel Şiir Neden Eleştirilemedi? (Why visual poetry could not be criticized?): Ayşegül Tözeren]

*This is a simplified version of the Turkish visual poetry study which was prepared for Akköy Magazine’s 75. Issue and Kurşunkalem Magazine’s "Empirical and Visual Poetry" feature. Most of the texts quoted are from poetikhars.com
(see also: poetikhars)

**The guide is primarily published in Zinhar no:3. This update was compiled in November 2005, and the articles were written in mixed form without the authors' names.

Ayşegül Tözeren
was born in 1979 in Istanbul. She graduated from Istanbul Medical Faculty. Her critiques and reviews have appeared in many magazines and newspapers. She edited the book Korkma Kimse Yok with Sibel Öz. She worked as the assistant editor-in-chief of Dünyanın Öyküsü (World's Story) magazine. Her visual poems were exhibited in countries such as England, Russia, Belgium. Her book titled Edebiyatta Eleştirinin Özeleştirisi (The Criticism of Criticism in Literature) was published by Manos Kitap.
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