On a major thoroughfare between a porn theatre and a filling station, it was just past the central cemetery and the bridge over the railway lines. A young communist lived in the room across from yours. He worked in a hotel. You had no job and no prospects but, for the moment, didn’t care. You’d sit together at the brittle table in the kitchen, all dark browns and orange, smoking, and listening to cassettes of sixties pop tunes, with small cups of coffee, now and again a beer. You had a couple of books and some traveler’s checks. Day after day you’d wander the sunburnt city, surprised, over and over again, at how often you got lost.
Every morning when I wake up, I sit cross-legged, light a cigarette and plan something new
– küçük İskender, Semih Gümüş interview
He was the enfant terrible of Turkish poetry. Gay man and performer who studied medicine and psychology before earning his entire living from poetry. Author of 24 books of poetry, küçük İskender was the voice of Istanbul’s underground and underbelly, Beyoğlu: voice of the junkies, trannies, the suicidal and the broken-hearted. He was a film enthusiast, who wanted his film library to be turned into a foundation. A fan of Kurt Cobain, Kafka and Mayakovsky, Iskender would sit in his smoky basement in Beyoğlu, beer in hand, and hold forth with histories of film, hair-raising stories of literally fatal love affairs and the darker side of Istanbul.
Born Derman İskender Över in 1964, he went by the name “küçük İskender” which means ‘Little Alexander”, a nod at the poet Iskender Pala, who in his mind would be “Alexander the Great”.
He was, without doubt, Turkey’s most prolific and inventive poet of the post-80s scene. He was the scene.
“Because life is the most tragic, most magnificent, most merciless trick death can play on us.”
küçük İskender, “Someone Call an Ambulance”
When you first hear of his illness, you should be in the company of a genius journalist at seven at night and still at work. Upon going into the underwater world of shock, you should walk with said visiting journalist to the fountain that the ravens frequent in Vienna’s Volksgarten. Sit on a bench. As you watch the cascades of crystal beads streaming from between stone wreathes and sculpted longing you might say,
“I can’t cry yet.”
You may regret not having published books with the great poet and letting him have his own way with the stage play you wrote as a canto of his lines. But you didn’t finish it. Now, this is finishing it.
“When the question is asked: ‘Is there death, after life?'”
küçük İskender, “Necromantic”
if the kernel of
sound is quiver,
the ear shall l-
oose tether, &
knell itself in
of whether whether
*the ear is a kind of leaf
From “The Little Light that Escaped”
But I remember.
The scent of sun and ash, a taste of resin, blame. Summers across slanting floors and smiles like sickles for thoughts of flight. Abandoned streets and a feeling of sinking. Makeshift holes not far from the sea; closer in, the cicadas’ hum the whirl straight up to twilight’s hem, brittle wings which brought no breeze while all the rest were busy drinking, swallowing the searing-eyed, searing-tongued prophets and seers, and jaundicing into the yellow silence of the years. The tonal monotony of the land.
Days passing, just out of the reach of the sun. Days passing, in a basement room, watching the arc of the sun through a small square of sky. Tides of no turning. Blocks of light mosaiced while the slow days tasted of mineral, copper, rust.
— The Australian feature on Les Murray (October 17, 1938-April 29, 2019)
And you would walk out with me to the western corner of the
To the dynastic temple, with water about it clear as blue jade,
With boats floating, and the sound of mouth-organs and drums,
With ripples like dragon-scales, going grass green on the water,
Pleasure lasting, with courtezans, going and coming without
With the willow flakes falling like snow,
And the vermilioned girls getting drunk about sunset,
And the water a hundred feet deep reflecting green eyebrows
—Eyebrows painted green are a fine sight in young moonlight,
And the girls singing back at each other,
Dancing in transparent brocade,
And the wind lifting the song, and interrupting it,
Tossing it up under the clouds.
And all this comes to an end.
And is not again to be met with.
— from “Exiles Letter” in Ezra Pound’s Cathay