Interview: Turkish Poet Yeşim Ağaoğlu & Japanese Poet Maki Starfield

Poetry which is a common passion of a Japanese and a Turkish conduces to intersect two far-flung cultures that are in the East and the West. And the book they published together serves as a gateway to unexpected lands for readers.
I found a chance to interview with poet Yeşim Ağaoğlu and Poet and Haiku artist Maki Starfield, who are the authors of the poetry book "Duet of Doors", recently published in both English and Japanese. And now I am sharing the interview about their new book with you.

Özlem Burcu: First of all, thank you for accepting the request for an interview. You are a poet who participates in various poetry festivals both national and international. How did you decide to take part in this project? Have you met with Ms.Maki before?

Yesim Agaoglu: First of all, hello! and thank you for valuing our book and doing this interview. No, we never met! We still have not met face to face! The environments where writers, artists take place are actually very small compared to the size of the world! I think Maki was made this duet book project before with two poets, an Irish poet, and an American poet. Anyway, the one who recommends me is that American poet, a friend of mine, William, whom I met years ago in a poetry festival in India. But I’ve never got the chance to see him again.
Yes, I do not know if I should be thankful for the technology, but it makes people connect from different continents and far distant lands like that! Of course, for this, there is also the important role of the poetry and the art, as much as the technology! We can establish such meaningful connections which are above and independent from all politics with the language of poetry and art.
I would have cared about this duet book project even if I wasn’t a part of it because it is a very promising method for the future. I know that Maki will continue with other poets from the various countries of the world in this way. All the best for her...Lucky me; I am part of such a meaningful beginning.

Özlem Burcu:  You are described as "a poet who uses the theme of mankind, love, and loneliness in her poetry, and who is trying to show the "Gray" world successfully from her own perspective." The name of the book you published with Ms. Maki is "Duet of Doors". What kind of a theme can the readers expect in this book? How did you choose the poems in the book?

Yesim Agaoglu: I write poems in very different and rich contents. I care about the content, as well as language, image, and style. I write poems that can be considered as surrealistic as well as realistic. I usually write about things that are touching, that influence me, or make me think. I believe in muse, but I also think that this muse should be fed in various ways. From my point of view, these are all the other arts branches, science, and life itself ...
For this book, I chose from my English poems which are limited in numbers and translated by my dear friend Nihal Yeğinobalı, a very important and valuable translator. Believe me, I can’t thank her enough for loving my poems, caring about them and translating them...

Özlem Burcu: You are not just a poet, but also an artist who creates works in plastic art and is interested in photography. In this book, readers will also see the photographs you have taken. "Every picture has a story," they say. Could you tell us about your photos in this book? (shooting locations, how you feel about them...)

Yesim Agaoglu: Yes, as you said, I am interested in poetry, literature, as well as art. Just as I look at everything from a holistic point of view, I look at art in the same way too! Although the techniques and style of production differ, the nature of creativity is always the same! When there is something I would like to tell or a trouble that I want to share, if I believe I can express it in a better way, I instinctively focus on it. Sometimes that can be poetry or a story and sometimes that can be an arrangement (installation), video or photo for me.
The photo on the cover and some of the photos inside of this book are chosen from my personal art blog by Maki and the editor. These are series of photographs that are suitable for the title of the book. I also have a series of photos that I have taken over the years, as well as individual photographs. The photographs chosen for this book are taken during my various trips and few of them are from a series of photographs I have named "Outside from Inside"(içeriden dışarısı) which are taken from the windows or doorways.

Özlem Burcu: What are your thoughts about Ms.Maki's poems?

Yesim Agaoglu: To tell you the truth, I accepted her duet book offer before I read Maki's poems! Because, William, our common friend who is an American poet and lecturer, suggested us to each other. William is a person who has already earned the trust of mine with his friendship and his professionalism in our common work. So with his advice, I said yes without having any second thoughts. And when I read Maki's poems later, I knew I was not wrong!

Özlem Burcu: Could you tell us about your plans for this year? Are we going to see your works at national or international festivals and exhibitions?

Yesim Agaoglu: I am a person who works continuously and creates in the field of art and literature. It is natural for me because this has always been the case. However, unfortunately for various reasons; I cannot show my works enough in the meantime! I do not like to share my plans before it becomes certain, but the most exciting one is I am planning to make an exhibition of my poems in a visual format, which is inspired by the names given to the works of Goya, the painter. Apart from that, as I said, I am working on multiple things. These include collective ones, too.

Özlem Burcu: Do you have plans or partnerships about the Far East?

Yesim Agaoglu: No, I do not have such a plan yet, but I would like to go if the conditions would be appropriate and contribute to the promotion of our book. It would be great to meet Maki face to face and also get to know a country and culture that I wonder about. I am sure Maki also wants the same thing for our book and Turkey.
Burcu: Will we be able to see Yeşim Ağaoğlu and Maki Starfield's works together again in the future?

Yesim Agaoglu: Sure, why not! It might just be a new window opening, a beginning for us...

Özlem Burcu: First of all thank you for accepting the request for an interview. As a poet, you publish most of your books bilingually. This is something that Turkish people do not see frequently. Many artists are worried about the loss of meaning during translation. What does the fact that your works reaching different cultures mean for you?
Maki Starfield: I would like to be an international poet/artist who seeks to overcome our different linguistic, racial and historical backgrounds. I believe in the immortality of languages, and wish to restore the humanity.
Özlem Burcu: The name of your book is Western - Eastern Poets in Sympathy: Poetic Dialogue, Duet of Doors. You have already worked with poets from different cultures. Where did the idea of working with a Turkish poet come from?
Maki Starfield: As one of the big projects in my poetry association in Kyoto, JUNPA ( I am considering it my mission. Before having collaboration with the Turkish Poet, Yesim I worked with Bill Wolak who is a great American poet as well as our common friend. He strongly recommended me to work with her too. I then thought it would widen my cultural horizon.
Özlem Burcu: For centuries, poetry in Japanese culture has been used to complement paintings and photographs. In your book, there are photographs that are taken by Ms. Yesim, which also complement the poems. I wanted to ask because I was impressed with the photographs in the"Duet of Doors".
What does the "door" symbolize for you? Where does the "door" lead for you? To Hope? To the answers to the things, you were looking for? To your fears? Can we learn the reason why you choose this title for your book?
Maki Starfield: When I checked the site by Yesim, I thought how wonderful and beautiful her images were! Especially for the ones of doors. I hit on the idea of the title of our book through her photographs and one of my poems, “a door to the future” from the first düet book,”Duet of Dots.”  I am sure our words of the two poets can be a product of resonance of their souls into one melody like a place where the East and the West merge. That’s why  I like the title of Doors which mean learning new things such as imaginary.
Özlem Burcu: In the "Duet of Doors", I think you have poems from your other books as well as new poems and "haiku". How did you decide on the poems in this book?

Maki Starfield: As above, I first thought I should have the poem, “a door to the future” related to the title of the book. Then, I picked the two poems,”Waves” and “You are mangos” for I had a great impact on the new style of writing poetry by Yesim as if they were musical instruments. At the same time, I created some more new poems like “ the voice of the sea “ with sounds of waves. They may sound haiku with short and simple words.  In order to have more people know my words like an open door, I feel the very poems and haikus I chose for this book; they show themselves how to see themselves as they really are.

Özlem Burcu: Could you tell us about your plans for your other projects this year? What are your national or international projects?

Maki Starfield: I am making one more book, Duet of Mists by Dileep jhaveri who is an excellent Indian poet by JUNPA’s Projects, and so I am planning to have such wonderful chances of collaborative work with other foreign poets over the world.  Also, as I am invited to an International festival in Romania this may, I'd love to join such wonderful events in the world. One of my big projects is to create a new movement of haiku art between the East and the west to have more people be aware of the power of words. I would like to travel a lot and see great artists to work with, as well as teaching haiku/Japanese culture översears in the near future.

Özlem Burcu: What are your thoughts about Ms.Yesim's poems?

Maki Starfield: I like her poems so much because I feel she is very talented and a musician of choosing nice words.  When I read the poem “a sleeping poet,”  my imagination of being a poet suddenly fanned out to the universe or the unconscious world. I felt it was like zen, a spirit of Japanese culture.  With a new style of writing poetry, I feel something in her words: the beginning and the end or the rest.

Özlem Burcu: Will we see Yeşim Ağaoğlu and Maki Starfield's works together again in the future?

Maki Starfield: Sure, we will. Honestly, I would like to work with her again through taking the form of events to produce new collaborative poems or artworks, to be performed live. It may be projected events or workshops, with each reading, sharing our work in short bursts, drawing in large audiences, including musical performance.

Doorways connect us. They are the passageways in and out of our lives. Doorways frame the passage from inner to outer realities. They’re liminal spaces from where we either retreat into the privacy of our houses or reach out to the world. Open doorways welcome the interaction between home and neighborhood, artifact and nature, architecture and landscape. 

In any cross-cultural project, one is always on the threshold of discovering something completely new and unexpected. So there is no better symbol for the JUNPA series of poetic dialogues which pairs Western and Eastern poets in a single volume than the offering of an open doorway through which the interchange of languages, cultures, and traditions can take place. 

 This duet of YesimAgaoglu and Maki Starfield has produced a volume of keenly insightful poetry. Employing the imagery of the doorway, each poet invites the reader to cross over into an enigmatic realm filled with desire, delight, and discovery.

YesimAgaogluwas born in Istanbul. She took her undergraduate degree from Istanbul University in Art History and Archaeology, then a Master’s in Radio, TV and Cinema. Her poems have appeared in various anthologies, and her published books of poetry have been translated into many languages. She frequently participates in international literary and poetry festivals, as well as gaining recognition internationally as a contemporary artist.

Maki Starfield Poet, Translator. Born in Ehime, 1972. She earned her Master of Arts from Sophia University, and then got the diploma of International business management (post graduate)with Honors from Niagara College and the certificate of TESOL from St.George International College in Canada. She began to make haiku in 2008, where she became recipient of a prize at the 12th annual Mainichi Haiku Contest. On February of 2012, she published a new collection, “Kiss the Dragon.”
She has recently been performing as a painter as well as a poet. She participated in Design Festa Vol.40 in Tokyo Big Site in 2014 and recently contemporary art exhibitions. She won a prize at the contemporary art (kindaibijutsu) association's public recruitment exhibition in 2017.
She is a member of Japan Universal Poets Association. She is also a regular member of Sokyu and Sawa in Japanese haiku associates.
Japanese-English Bilingual Books: “Duet of Dots” co-authored with Naran Matos in 2015, “Duet of Lines” co-authored with Luca Benassi, “Trio of Crystals” co-authored with Hélène Cardona and John FitzGerald in 2017, “Trio of Gardens” co-authored with Lidia Chiarelli and Huguette Bertrand in 2018, “Duet of Fireflies” co-authored with Bill Wolak in 2018. “Duet of Doors” co-authored with Yesim Agaoglu in 2018.

If you are interested in buying this book which is published in both Japanese and English, this is the amazon link. 

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