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Translator's Note: five story house in laleli


These three poems are from a 1985 collection titled Katze und Derwisch (Cat and dervish), which was published while Gisela Kraft was living, of her own free choice, in what was then East Germany. Before she moved to the GDR to become a full-time writer and translator, Kraft had earned a doctorate in Islamic Studies. Her interest in Middle Eastern culture, especially Turkish culture, has intimate connections to her personal and poetic philosophy. The life and purpose of the dervish plays such an important role that Kraft appended a note to this collection, which describes how dervishes engage with the divine (also called the eternal beloved)—they travel and they sing. “They find the necessary song. A very simple song, this time, for the earth that keeps turning, for the sure progress of days and nights by dew and deed. For endless life. I sing along with them. The beloved helps me join in.” The dervish and the poet are on the same path. “Absence or a record of the creation of a fabulous animal,” one of a series of poems addressed to the eternal beloved, has the most overt Islamic imagery, but all three poems reflect the journey of the dervish/poet seeking the unity of human experience and the divine. One of the things I admire most about Kraft’s poems is how she makes the reader immediately feel grounded in a place, even as she explores the abstract, whether that place is the real village of Laleli in Turkey, the psychic landscape of absence, or the untenable dwelling place of peace. Ultimately, with the inborn ability of a homing bird, these poems always return us to our inner regions, to “the one human being.”

When I stumbled across Katze und Derwisch in a pile of books that friends in Germany had set aside for me, what struck me initially, and continues to draw me in, is the presence of a singular voice singing a necessary song. I have strived to create faithful versions that echo Kraft’s voice and maintain the integrity of her cultural references. The challenges and small departures often arose when accommodatinghow Kraft shapes poems with only line breaks and no punctuation or capitalization and when facing the need for more colloquial equivalents, as in the title “means to an end,” a phrase that happily captures the sense of the original, which translates literally as “on the questionableness of means.”


This poem originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2010

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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