writes in both Uyghur and Arabic, and has also translated the work of numerous poets into Uyghur, such as Octavio Paz, Paul Celan, Fernando Pessoa, and Adonis. He is recognized as one of the founders and leading lights of the New Poetry movement that emerged in Uyghur literature in the 1980s. His own literary influences range from modernists like Paul Celan and the Syrian poet Adonis to classical Uyghur authors like the eighteenth-century Sufi poet Meshrep. He is the author of eight collections of poetry, published in Syria and East Turkestan.
I had first discovered some quoted lines of Osman’s poetry while editing a folio of Uyghur poetry for the anthology Two Lines. I talk about this in the preface of the book, but the inspiration ignited there — poetry’s magic, in Osman’s case, wormed its way into my inner brain just with those few lines. I was fortunate enough to be able to track him down, and from there, we managed to work out a translation process together, that involved a lot of correspondence. As far as a political statement, personally, no, I don’t see any book of poems like this. Sometimes, it automatically will be taken as such, though, as politics is everywhere, and poetry’s matrix is composed of everything, wherever the lines take you, and politics is just one part of it. I’m aware, though, of the ongoing oppression of the Uyghur people, their culture, history, language, and this injustice is certainly a source of deep sorrow and concern, a call for engagement, which is what poetry is for me. Perhaps it will become a part of a growing body of Uyghur literature in English translation — that would be grand!
Dolkun Kamberi works as the Director at Radio Free Asia Uyghur Service in Washington D.C. I encourage everyone to look at their . Kamberi also put me in touch with Osman and co-edited the Two Lines Uyghur folio with me, though he didn’t work on this book with us. The translations were done by Osman and myself: as I write in the preface, Osman sent me a kind of skeleton key of each poem, which I then worked on in English (not knowing Uyghur or Arabic), and then I went back to him a thousand times with ten thousand questions, like, “What does this mean?” And you’re right, the shamanistic aspect of writing and translating has deeply interested me for a long now, and part of why I also continued on with this process. So many circumstances coincided for this book, it’s hard for me to believe that I will take on another such project, largely because I’m very much of the school of translation that you need to know the language you’re translating from! Beautiful exceptions are everywhere, though they are still exceptions. In an essay I write about Lin Shu, for instance, who was one of the most remarkable translators of western fiction into Chineset around the turn of the twentieth century, though he knew none of the languages he was translating from. Though he had a very special method that came out of his very particular soul. I don’t claim Lin Shu’s skills, but I think Osman and I together were able to make something special here that channels the ideals of the Thirty-Sixth Chamber.
You are right. It is not just my poetry—but rather, in my opinion, all poetry is about addressing an ontological paradox. One Arabic poet, who lived during the 12ᵗʰ century named Al-Niffari, said (paraphrasing and translating): “if one does not witness what is not said, one disperses into what is said.” I think that this quote defines what poetry is – which is essentially trying to say what cannot be said. This is known as the poet’s paradox which distinguishes the poet from everyone else.
I do not agree with Blum’s dictum, as I tend to lean towards Borges’ idea that every word in poetry is a metaphor. For me, the ocean is the unknown world where we are lost without direction. The shores we find are nothing more than just a resting place for us before we embark on another journey where we become lost again. The ocean is the vastness; it is the boundless; it is, in the simplest form, I. The Uyghur consciousness lacks the concept of the ocean as East Turkestan is not surrounded geographically by any oceans or any seas. As for me, I first saw my first large body of water, the Mediterranean Sea, when I was 18 years old. That is when I started to incorporate the language of the ocean into my poetry.
Astrology does not play a significant role in Uyghur culture, especially not in spiritual practice. They are personal symbols in my poetry. I was born and raised in housings belonging to a coal mine that my father worked at. These housings were neither urban nor rural – they were in the middle of nowhere. The only things that connected me to the outside world were the Sun, Moon and stars in the sky. You could say that the Sun, Moon, and stars comprised my dream world. In my poems, there are no particular symbolic meanings to the Sun and Moon except that they both represent my other selves (the representation is evident in the line you quoted).
As you know, language is the collective consciousness of the people that speak it as it comprises culture and way of thinking. Therefore, with any language you write in, you identify with the collective consciousness. You become a tool for the collective consciousness to express itself through it. With that being said, with every different language you write in, the content and style change. That is because the content and style do not belong to you, but belong to the language you are speaking in (or more correctly, the language that is speaking through you). Of course, I wish that I could write more in Uyghur because I think the Uyghur language is the opposite of the Arabic language where it is less fortunate in expressing itself. That is because it is the language of people that were under occupation for a long period of time where they faced cultural genocide that lead to linguistic destruction. An example of the cultural genocide is my work being banned and me not being able to publish any more in Uyghur.
I lean towards the theory that the word “Uyghur” comes from the word “Uy” which means unite and the suffix “-ghur” which makes “Uy” a noun, forming the word “united”. As for the title of my book, Uyghurland, it refers to a place (East Turkestan) where I belong to as an Uyghur but at the same time refers to an imagined place where I belong to as a poet. This makes East Turkestan, the country I belong to, a place of exile for me where as the Uyghur language is my real homeland as a poet. I would like to point out a very important issue for me regarding the Uyghur language being my homeland as a poet which is the unfortunate fact that the Uyghur language is under threat of becoming extinct; this is the biggest pain I have to suffer as an Uyghur poet.