Köz: A Conversation with Susan Stewart

Susan Stewart is one of America’s most accomplished poets and authors. An academic at Princeton University, her publications range from collections of poetry to works of criticism, most recently The Ruins Lesson: Meaning and Material in Western Culture. This year, her poetry collection, Cinder, was published by 160 Kilometer in a Turkish translation by Ahmet Güntan, as Köz.

To celebrate the launch, KIRAATHANE Istanbul Literature House organized an online event in which Stewart was joined in conversation by Donat Bayer, the editor of the poetry series of which Köz was a part, and the Turkish poet Güven Turan. The conversation involved readings from the collection in both Turkish and English and ranged from Stewart’s inspirations to her relationship to other academic disciplines.

Stewart discussed the importance of the musical quality of her work with Donat Bayer, and her own translations. “I have usually ended up translating poetry through friendship – sometimes because my friends have loved a poet and have asked me to translate them, as in the case of Alda Merini.” In other cases Stewart has developed a relationship with the poet directly and come to translate them that way. 

Güven Turan asked how Stewart writes, and discussed her methodology. “Poems usually come to me. I don’t sit down and write in the morning or something like that – I have a very busy life and I raise two children. But I guess I would say that I am always writing.” Stewart works slowly, over months and months, letting a poem sit for almost a year after she has finished it. 

“Sometimes I’m preoccupied with an image, sometimes I hear some language on the street, I might hear a lyric from a song, a word that draws my attention. So it can come from anyway. Sometimes I work in a rather belaboured way, but sometimes poems just come to me in the middle of the night.” The poem Cinder – which gives the volume its name – is one such poem. 

Asked about her poetic ancestors, Stewart says that her basic canon is that of the renaissance poets, like Thomas Wyatt, and the seventeenth century poets. “They are extremely interesting to me because they show the influence of European poetry on English. The metaphysicals learn to think with poetry in a way that hadn’t been done before when poetry was mostly musical.” As an American poet, though, she commented that Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman were extremely important, even though they both worked with completely different lines. For her they are the “salt and pepper shakers of our possibilities.”

You can watch the full recording of this online conversation here.

We would like to thank the independent publishing house 160. Kilometre for their help in organizing this event.