Beauty and Form in the Work of Sidney Wade

Sidney Wade
© Marion Ettlinger

SIDNEY WADE has published five collections of poems, the most recent of which is Stroke (Persea Books, 2008). Her next, Edge, is forthcoming from Persea in April 2013. Her poems and translations have appeared in a wide variety of journals, including Poetry, The New Yorker, Grand Street, and The Paris Review. She translates the poems of Melih Cevdet Anday and Yahya Kemal, among others, from the Turkish. She taught at Istanbul University as a Senior Fulbright Fellow in 1989-90. The poetry editor of the literary journal Subtropics, she has also served as President of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs and Secretary/Treasurer for the American Literary Translators Association, ALTA. She has taught in the MFA@FLA Creative Writing Program at the University of Florida since 1993.

Many of your poems seem very grounded in place, whether a natural landscape or the city of Istanbul. How would you say place affects you as a poet?

Landscape has a profound influence on me, always has. And not just in terms of my writing — I respond physically and spiritually, as well as aesthetically, to the landscapes I inhabit.

The speakers in your poems have very close connections to their landscape, be it a natural or urban setting, and, as humans, they seem to be placed on equal terms as the objects, particularly natural objects, rather than lording over them. A poem like “Locus Amoenus” in Empty Sleeves, for example, conveys a beauty that is both elegant and humble in its inclusiveness. Can you speak to your aesthetic in terms of the relation between human nature and nature?

I have long objected to the Judeo-Christian assumption that humans were put on earth to dominate its other orders. I’m quite sure we were, instead, as so many indigenous cultures have recognized forever, offered the opportunity to cooperate with creatures and other living presences on whose good graces we depend for our sustenance, and, of course, our lives.

Reading your translations of Turkish poems and your original poems set in Istanbul, I feel transported to a richly textured and ancient world. I imagine living in Istanbul had a strong affect on your aesthetic?

Istanbul’s divided soul owes its life to uncertainties, mysteries, and doubt, and my experience there honed my sense of the central importance of this tension in art.

Living in Istanbul hugely broadened my understanding of beauty. I’ve never before or since had the great good fortune to live in a place that I felt sure was the center of the world. Aesthetically, Istanbul inhabits a deeply poetic space. I think this is due to the fact that it is so self-conflicted — it is at once European and Asian, the seat of Christian and Islamic empires, ancient and contemporary, conservative and liberal, filthy and clean, foreign and familiar. All these contrasts noddle along, nudging at everyone from every angle, insisting you take in both sides at once, just as Keats recommended artists accept the world, with what he called “negative capability.” Istanbul’s divided soul owes its life to uncertainties, mysteries, and doubt, and my experience there honed my sense of the central importance of this tension in art. And of course, coming into contact with the awe-inspiring artistic achievements that have accumulated over the centuries, both Eastern and Western, in that center of the world, significantly affected my aesthetic.


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