walls have ears
Voice (mezzo), string quartet, video.
A song commissioned by Lore Lixenberg and the Brodsky String Quartet for their “Walls and Trees” project to be premiered at the City of London Festival 2013. The text which is projected rather than sung, is by Turkish Cypriot poet Mehmet Yashin. It deals with the issue of language in the time of conflict, and how as a Turkish Cypriot growing up in a minority community in the sixties, the fact of speaking his mother-tongue becomes a complex and sensitive issue. The form of the song is based on a metaphor of the inner voice. There is a disparity developed through the piece between the text one reads in English on the video, and the incomplete Turkish phonemes that are quietly voiced by the singer.
İçimden konuşurdum işitilmesin diye
gören de bilgelik sezerdi sessizliğimden!
Gizlenmesi gerekirdi çünkü tehlikeliydi Türkçe
Elence desen kesinkes yasak.
Tetikte beklerdi birer makineli-tüfek gibi
beni kurtarmak isteyen büyükler
zaten o zamanlar gönüllü askerdi herkes.
Ve ders kitaplarının ince bıçak-açacağına benzeyen
İngilizce, ortada dururdu öyle,
zorunlu durumlarda konuşulacak bir dil olarak
özellikle de Elenler ile.
Hangi dilde ağlayacağımı bile şaşırırdım çoğu kez
yabancı da değil, çeviri bir hayattı yaşadığım
anadilim başkaydı, anavatanım başka
ben derseniz bambaşka.
Daha o karartma günlerinden görünmüştü
hiçbir ülkenin şairi olamayacağım
çünkü azınlıktım ve ‘özgürlük’
hiçbir ulusal sözlüğe sığamayan bir sözcüktü...
En sonunda üç dil birbirine girdi şiirlerimde
ne Türkler duyabildi içimden geçenleri
ne Elenler, ne de Öbürleri –
Ama kınamıyorum onları, savaş zamanıydı.
Mehmet Yahsin (1991)
I used to talk within myself so that no one could hear me,
and they all suspected wisdom in my silence!
Turkish was dangerous, must not be spoken,
and Greek was absolutely forbidden...
My elders who wanted to save me, were waiting,
each one trigger-ready before a machine-gun.
Anyway, everyone was then a willing soldier.
English remained right in the middle,
a slender paper-knife for cutting schoolbooks,
a tongue to be spoken at certain times
especially with the Greeks!
I was often unsure in which language to shed tears,
the life I lived wasn’t foreign, but one of translation –
my mother-tongue one thing, my motherland another,
and I, again, altogether different...
Even in those days of blackouts it became obvious
I could never be the poet of any country,
because I belonged to a minority. And ‘Freedom’ is still
a little word uneasy in any nation's lexicon...
Then in my poems, the three languages got into a wild tangle:
Neither the Turks nor the Greeks
could hear my inner voice, nor the Others...
But I don’t blame them, it was wartime.
Mehmet Yahsin (1991)