Book Review: & Silk & Love & Flame by Birhan Keskin



“Every culture has a poetics of pathos.

In Greek, pathos means “suffering.” Aristotle defined pathos as one of the rhetorical modes of persuasion. It involves eliciting emotion to produce a desired effect on one’s audience.

In America, we have the blues, with its origins in the spirituals sung by African American slaves on plantations. The blues are laden with feelings of sorrow and hardship. However, they evolved to encompass personal themes, and political messages, without loosing their roots in suffering. The lyrics by Irving Mills of Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo take us to that poignant state (especially when sung by Billy Holiday):

‘Cause there’s nobody who cares about me
I’m just a soul who’s bluer than blue can be
When I get that mood indigo
I could lay me down and die.

A feeling of deep misery is wedded to the potency of the blues, which has been disseminated and adopted by cultural art forms of all kinds in America and beyond.

In Spain, poet Federico Garcia Lorca identified duende as the tragic streak of madness found in the work of great flamenco dancers and bull fighters. He describes it as the “earth spirit of irrationality and death,” in his book of poetic criticism titled In Search of Duende. This form of pathos found in Spanish poetics emphasizes dark and mysterious undertones of creative impulses.

For Turkish poet Birhan Keskin, a famous line of the seventeenth century folk poet Karacaoğlan concretizes the theme of pathos: “Bir Ayrılık, bir yoksulluk, bir ölüm” (A separation, a destitution, a death). In a shared “Şiir Masası” (“Poetry Roundtable”) interview conducted by Deniz Durkuan with Birhan Keskin, Ezel Akay, Serenad Bagcan and Hakan Gercek published in Pul Biber, Keskin points out that these are three primary concerns in Turkish poetics, with the themes themselves originating four or five thousand years ago with the Sumerians. (…)”

Read the full review in the Bosphorus Review of Books May Edition.

Find out how I learned about Birhan Keskin’s work by scrolling down to my Editor’s Note here.

Birhan Keskin

Birhan Keskin, poet