İlhan Sami Çomak
İlhan Sami Çomak was arrested in 1994 while he was still a student, and charged with membership of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party. After 19 days of torture, he signed a confession and was sentenced to death for the crime of ‘separatism’. The sentence was later commuted to life. The European Court of Human Rights has since ruled that the conviction was unlawful. Although he has twice appealed against his conviction, both appeals were unsuccessful. After 28 years in prison, the last 7 in solitary confinement, İlhan Sami Çomak is now one of Turkey’s longest serving political prisoners. He has always maintained his innocence.
Translated by Canan Maraşlıgil, Öykü Tekten, İdil Karacadağ, Sevda Akyüz, Şakir Özüdoğru, Paula Darwish, Clifford Endres and Caroline Stockford.
From prison İlhan Sami Çomak has published nine books of poetry. He has won the Sennur Sezer poetry prize (1999), the Metin Altıok prize (2022) and the Norwegian Authors’ Union Freedom of Expression award (2022). He is an honorary member of PEN Norway, PEN Cymru and PEN Austria. Separated from the Sun is a representative selection of poems from each of his books – including his most recent collection, Hayattayız Nihayet – delicate and courageous attempts to reconcile himself to a world without flowers, rivers, seasons, women, or the fresh-baked smell of sesame bread.
Cover: Nazlı Ongan
Author photo: İpek Özel
There are no kids scaling back walls to skip school. No human bond of good making friendship from mere words. There are no stones for throwing stones No flowers pooling dew, no rivers overflowing the map. No fresh-baked smell of sesame bread to summon up a crowd. There are no women of selflessness and beauty, no possibility to stretch out on grass and test the constancy of sky. There is no candle, just as there is no lamp. No darkness. There is absolutely no darkness. There are no turnings of the seasons, no eclipses of the moon. No earth, no plants in their simple elegance. No cat’s paws, no sweat-drenched headlong of a horse. No curtain for breeze to life, no mouldering bunches of grapes. Life; separated from the sun. There’s no direction here. But there is a way out. Always a way out. translated by Caroline Stockford
What I know of the sea is so little yet all I want to do is swim! Without leaning too long on reality I’d like to view all my memories one by one; leisurely. I’d like to go, for example, to your dream world where you open the window and walk where you rise and weave your fingers into unkempt hair. Rains wander your face, the gentleness of dew is in your voice. Let each and every spring be yours! May all mountains tire and arrive here! Here at the place where stars have spilled you where waters flow; the place where you say Curl up on my lap and let birds take flight In the place where we collected questions such as ‘what was before words?’ What I know of love is so little! Yet I’m constantly thinking of you! translated by Caroline Stockford
I got up and walked Lifted my head to the sky and pulled the width of its vacancy towards me. Its hands of flowing blue shortened my stride and I stole the scurrying and the chill of clouds. I was alone. I thought of myself as a shower of rain embroiling itself with winds and their fishtailing roar. A rain of the colourful breath of horizons that opens sunlit flowers I remembered how snow falls The relationship of shadow to existence and a few other things. Daybreak came following those long nights I tried to wake up, to remember before and afterwards. I got up and walked. translated by Caroline Stockford
The napkin smeared with lipstick you left upon the table – I carry it, always, in my pocket. Your smile and just-brushed hair I carry in my mind, the scent of you I carry in my palm as an undying rose the smell of your breath when we kiss hello, I carry in my surprise. In my anger I carry those who look at you, walking. In my excitement I carry the rhythm of your step curve of your high-heeled shoe In my dreams is the sound of your dress as you step out and it In my sleep I carry the lightness of you falling on my bed In my loneliness I carry the sound of your voice breaking into music Every letter of you, their tone and inflection I carry one by one in my eyes The meaning of your dreams I carry in my fantasies. I carry the freshness of the water you drink In my mouth. translated by Caroline Stockford
Take me away from here, I’ve seen so many things I’ve seen so deep, so far. Long, long have I been saddened. The time has come for mountain springs, for winds blowing over the harvest and for the Time for the endlessness of my shaking legs heading towards the horizon as day opens its great door Comprehend me from my root, not from my branch Understand me from my dream, not from the life I’ve lived Maybe the mirror is in pieces Know me by my laugh, not by the mirror’s talk. For so long my street’s been peopled with absence With ivy’s soundless climb Its swallow: shady, slow, and always half-way there. Take me away from this stagnation I’ve seen so much of the abyss, long, long I’ve stared at it That void is just repetition. It’s time for you to say you’re a bird that is wetted in rain It’s time to breathe the smell of soil, fill with it, grow with it Know me by my love, not by my loneliness. Comprehend me from what I long for, not by what I have lost Understand me by my childhood, not by the present version of me. I’m coming in search of you. translated by Caroline Stockford
‘Lyric poems of astonishing beauty, vitality and strength. These are poems that break the heart, invigorate and inspire in the same breath.’
‘He has taken flight with poetry and has made poetry fly from behind those iron bars and solid walls.’
‘The remarkable thing about Çomak’s work is its lack of bitterness. We might expect anger, or a railing against injustice but instead he writes about love and hope and freedom.’
An elegant collection to love and to hold in the face of rising right-wing populism and related hate-crimes.’
Exiled Ink Magazine