© Photo: Olof Lövblad (2008)
Ilyas Halil was born in Adana, Turkey in 1930. Through childhood and adolescence he lived in Mersin. Like many Turkish literati, he too, embarked upon literature by writing poetry. In a short time he won renown as a poet; as his poems appeared in periodicals and his books were published one after another:
Hal ve Hayal (Fact and Fantasy, 1950), Mürdüm Dalı (Damson Branch, 1953), A Selection of Poems by Emerson (Translation, 1954), Yalandır Herhalde (It’s a Lie, Probably, 1959).*
In 1964, our poet moved to Canada with his family. For years on, no news were heard from him. Starting with the early eighties, his volumes of short stories appeared one after the other. Renowned Turkish artist Nuri Abaç (1926-2008) had to do his share by contributing book covers for his friend of youthful times. All book covers of the works by Ilyas Halil carry reproductions of Nuri Abaç paintings.
Starting with 1983 his volumes of short stories were to be published in his own country. These short stories unique in their genre, were collected in fifteen volumes:
Doyumsuz Göz (Discontented Eye, 1983), Çıplak Yula (Naked Yula, 1985), İt Avı (Dog Hunt, 1987), Boyansin Ramazan (Shoeshine Ramadan, 1989), İskambil Evler (House of Cards, 1991), Kiralık Mabet (Temple For Rent, 1993), Sarhoş Çimenler (The Drunken Grass, 1995), Gâvur Memur Aranıyor (Wanted: Infidel Employees, 1999), Körler Bahçesi ( Garden For the Blind, 2004), Agap Çiçeği (The Agape Flower, 2006), Gavur Aşevi (Infidel’s Restaurant, 2007), Chagall Yıllarım (My Chagall Years, 2008), Plaza Dona Elvira (Plaza Dona Elvira, 2009), Ebel’in Duası (Ebel’s Prayer, 2011) and Salkımlar Ülkesi Salkımya (Two Grapes on a Cluster, 2013).
Ilyas Halil who became much indebted to his first love –poetry- appeared before his readers with five volumes of poetry after 1959. This haiku type of poetry which Ilyas Halil has distilled from his wealth of refined feeling and thought comprises his works of maturity:
Altmış Beş Yıl Beklemek Gerek (It Takes Sixty Five Years of Waiting, 1998), Dört Damla Bahar Yağmuru (Four Droplets of Spring Rain, 2000), Tuz Çizgisi (Streak of Salt, 2001), Pazar Sabahı Güvercinler (Pigeons on a Sunday Morning, 2005), Ay Şiirleri (Moon Poems, 2014).
The first four volumes contain poems in Turkish and their English translations simultaneously. It Takes Sixty Five Years of Waiting was similarly published in Turkish along with French translations in 2008.*
Mürdüm Dalı (Damson Branch) is a collection that combines the first three poetry volumes composed by Ilyas Halil in his early twenties. Although touched by an influence of Orhan Veli poetry (and humor); they nevertheless, carry clues of his own literary identity to be shaped eventually. These poems of the period of youth of our masterful poet and author still preserve some of the finesse even to this day.
As was once noted elsewhere, Ilyas Halil who has been living abroad since half a century, continually contemplates on poetry and story writing twenty four hours of the day and still dreams in Turkish most probably.
Ilyas Halil’s Works Translated into Foreign Languages
Ilyas Halil’s poetry and short story volumes published in his native land have been received with interest in the foreign languages they have been translated into.
Ilyas Halil’s poetry volume titled It Takes Sixty Five Years of Waiting was translated into Greek by the former Greek Ambassador Dimitris Iliopoulos to Arab Emirates and published by the European Art Center in Athens in the year 2000.*
Translations of his poetry volumes Four Droplets of Spring Rain and Streak of Salt into Greek by Dimitris Iliopoulos were also published by the European Art Center in Athens in 2005.*
It Takes Sixty Five Years of Waiting and Four Droplets of Spring Rain (published by Toplum Yayınları, Ankara, Turkey in 1998 and 2000) were published in a single volume in English by the Veniard Press of Montreal, Canada.
The Arabic and French translations of It takes Sixty Five Years of Waiting came out in 2002. Seventeen poems selected from this volume were translated into Arabic by the Saudi Arabian poet Abdel Mecit.*
A selection of his stories translated into Arabic by Michel Naggar under the title Engineer Wanted was published by Grey Press.
His short story titled Engineer Wanted was published in Chinese in the Periodical English Saloon. Furthermore, one of his poems was set to music in Ukraine.
His volumes of short stories translated into English and published by Southmoor Studios are the following:
- Unregulated Chicken Butts and Other Stories
- (A selection from Discontented Eye and Naked Yula was published by Utah University Press.)
- Temple For Rent (Kiralık Mabet)
- Wanted: Infidel Employees (Gâvur Memur Aranıyor)
- Shoeshine Ramadan (Boyansin Ramazan)
- Drunken Grass (Sarhoş Çimenler)
- House of Cards (İskambil Evler)
- Dog Hunt (İt Avı)
- Naked Yula (Çıplak Yula)
The story below from İlyas Halil’s Two Grapes on a Cluster (Ûrün Yayınları, 2014) in Ülkün Tansel’s English translation
First Edition (in Turkish): July, 2013
Second Edition (in English): July, 2014
Maria at the village of Soli
I’d been looking for her all this time
She happened to be within me
And turned out to be my ecstasy.
(on that day 07.05. … 50)
She – the first friend of my youth – used to express her affection by touching, biting, smelling or listening.
Maria became a candle for me illuminating my path in my dark hour, and later to become the path to follow.
We searched hand in hand for all that was unknown to us. On my days of hardship she was closer to me than my own hardship, standing right by my side, holding my hand.
Sixty years later when I returned to the great plains of Çukurova I found her blowing over the plain. She was the wind. She was the perfume that had taken refuge in the flowers, the color at sunset.
Maria was the morning quietude on the Taurus mountains, disturbing dreams.
My myth of Maria began on a joyous day in May: We had ridden to Pompeipolis on bicycles.
The beach was foaming white. The sun cast that yellow hue of the morning. Going behind a bush that had barely grown leaves she untied her hair; hung up her skirt and cast aside her underwear. I do not remember if she wore a bathing suit or not.
There she stood all naked as water gushing from a fountain. Wind blew from the pine trees in the heights. It was Amour Ventus. The morning breeze of the Mediterranean was slapping me on the face.
Incredibly beautiful she was, with her breasts heaving, at the age of twenty then.
The light reflecting on her skin was a different hue of yellow. Absorbed in thoughts I was counting the grains of sand adhered to her breasts.
The coast was empty. The breeze had subdued. Time had come to halt.
The sea, the sand, the sun and the wind, we all gazed at Maria in admiration.
Two clusters of lemon flowers dropped low as she exhaled.
Away flew her white sea gull breasts, black mulberry tipped nipples in the breeze.
It had been several months since I had known Maria. She was new in town. That evening Maria served as waitress at Hotel Taurus. She was merry; inundated with femininity exuding from her nose and ears. She perfumed the air with femininity.
She told me that evening why she had come to the great plains of Çukurova: “The first time I ever heard of this legend of love was from a troubadour visiting in our village of Porto Vechio on Corsica,” she said. “As the myth goes, it happened in the days when human beings did not realize why they walked standing upright. Those were the times when the human being was a raindrop in pouring rain running towards the sea to form rivers, unaware of who she was.
On top of the Taurus mountains she became aware of the fine air. She wanted the creatures on the Great Plains to know that it is this fine air that gives them life. So to inform them she moved down blowing. She became the wind.
This wind caused people’s eyes to water and endowed their nose with the ability to sneeze.
And thus, the eyes of all creatures opened up; their noses sensed smell; their hearts beat faster.
The human beings called this wind Amour Ventus. Beginning with May when Amour ran across the plains, they felt something lacking inside themselves. They contemplated about the future. Days gone by became the past. They became aware of the time running out.”
“I wanted to find out about this place where the myth originated from. I did not meet anybody who knew where the Bull mountains were. I went over to the church to ask the pastor. ‘There is a country by the name of Anatoli,’ said the pastor, ‘it means the land where the sun rises. Perhaps there, you might be able to find what you are looking for.'”
“That’s how it happened. Here I am now,” said Maria, “I wanted to remain in my village and become a painter. It was 1945. The war was barely over. Hunger grew in our village stinging like nettle. Unemployment darkened the day. Poverty was contagious.
I was searching for myself. I wanted to see the sky over Cilicia Plain painted Cilician blue by the Ventus, the wind.
I wanted to savor the Mediterranean in Cilicia’s fountains and evenings. I wanted to boil in a pot, the sound of the Cilician sea and the yellow of its sun as remedy for my heart.
‘Come Ventus! Open up the door to the dark caves inside me, so that amour can get in,’ I said, desiring that the sun, earth, water and womanhood all blend inside me to run thundering like a river.
Today, at Pompeipolis, I want Amour Ventus to disperse my hair.”
On that date of unknown number centuries plus fifty years Maria was the same age as I was. We communicated with the few common foreign words, conversing in the language common to our age.
It was May within us, a season of youth when we felt like two fingers on the same hand. Two perplexed human beings, getting so close as if to smell a flower.
We sensed May. We searched for May in each other.
Maria stood by the sea.
“Oh divine wind! Today, when you touched my hair as if rustling the leaves of the fig tree, I woke up feeling a woman. I am going to teach my body to become a woman.
Will you help me?
I am going to put on all hues of blue of the sea.
I shall paint myself as the morning
Facing the sun I’ll feel warmth
On my breasts breaking into white foam on the Pompeian Sea
As a sky that hasn’t been touched by the sun yet
I shall run like rays of light speeding from the sun to the earth.”
The moment I felt your touch on my naked body Amour Ventus, I realized I was lacking in Amour. Please shake me up, until I realize what I am looking for.
You and me side by side under the sun. We shall blow like a current of air.
I shall know what I am looking for and you shall see that you are being sought.
Then she turned to me: “A few years ago I was a child. Now, I am a puzzle. I ask myself who I am. I see that you hold the answer.
This morning I grow the spring inside me.
The yellow tomato flower told me that I shall ripen into a red tomato some day.”
Some day I would like to share happiness with you. We might get together one of these days.
© English translation: Ülkün Tansel
For other contributions by İlyas Halil, please follow the link below:
Published with the permission of İlyas Halil & Ülkün Tansel