Stopping By

Stopping by with Ayşegül Savaş

Ayşegül Savaş author photo

During this extraordinary moment in time, we asked writers, musicians, curators, and innovators to reflect on influence, memory, language, shared spaces, and the power of poetry to bring us together.

Ayşegül Savaş is the author of the novels Walking on the Ceiling and White on White. Her work has appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Granta. Originally from Istanbul, she lives in Paris

What is the last thing that moved you?

Jessica Au’s novel Cold Enough For Snow, which is one of the most touching portraits of a mother and daughter I have ever read.

A few days ago, I watched a documentary letter correspondence between Jonas Mekas and José Luis Guerín. I found the exchange between these men of different generations, at very different points in their career, very moving.

I don’t enjoy flying and on a recent rocky flight I was soothed by András Schiff playing Schubert’s Hungarian Melody.

What is a poem that changed or greatly influenced your life?

For many years, my husband and I had dinner with our upstairs neighbor and poet Anne Atik. Every week, around the table, we read poems together, mostly from the collections in Anne’s library. Two of Anne’s favorites were Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking” and R.L Stevenson’s “Requiem”— poems which I loved through her. More than these, however, I have been changed by Anne’s love of poetry that she held on to until her death, and the way she shared this love with us, as naturally as sharing a meal.

What is your first memory of poetry?

My grandmother singing a folk song about soldiers returning to their village on a dusty road.

How has this last year changed you, and what is something that you learned, that you will take with you into a post-pandemic world?

I spent part of the early pandemic with a group of friends. We established a commune order, sharing tasks and gathering for meals and trips to the weekly market. These months were a lesson for me in the frailty of our communities. Even among a small group of like-minded people, trying their best at co-habitation, small differences of opinion could result in big tensions. At the same time, the sheer presence of a community was life affirming on a daily basis. I will try and remember that a simple, calm day— working, being with friends, going on a walk, reading and cooking and sleeping— is never to be taken for granted.

What is your greatest creative influence?

The Aegean landscape.

Much of my work deals with notions of home and belonging. I grew up in many different places, and my family and friends are spread out over many countries. There is no home or city to which I can attribute a personal narrative. But the Aegean landscape is a place where I feel at once anchored and awe-struck.

If you were to choose one poem or text to inscribe in a public place right now, what would that be? And where would you place it?

If I was given a chance, I would plant a tree, or many trees, in any cement-wasteland of any city.

What do you see as the role of art in public life at this moment in time?

I see it as a space protected from the dominant forms of thinking; an area whose essence should reach beyond immediate, easily consumable ideas.

What do you want people to take away from your work?

When I think of works that have shaped my imagination, it is with a sense of gratitude and extreme relief for their existence. I hope my work can elicit a similar response, to give pleasure to a reader and perhaps, also, a sense of kinship.

Are you working on anything right now that you can tell us about?

I’m working on a novel about a young couple trying to figure out how to live in a foreign country. Will they have friends they can rely on? Will they be integrated into any social routine, form rituals and traditions? Which language will they rely on and which will they begin to forget as they age? And what about their parents, whose aging they witness on video calls?

These are the questions that are driving my book. Though they are big, and melancholy questions, I hope nonetheless that this will be a joyful book about two quirky people who love each other very much.

What are you hopeful for in 2022?


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