Baybars, Taner

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Nationality: British. Born: Nicosia, Cyprus, 18 June 1936. Education: Educated privately and at the Turkish Lycée, Nicosia. Military Service: Royal Air Force, 1954–55. Family: Married Kristin Hughes-Stanton in 1959 (divorced 1977); one daughter. Career: Books assistant, 1956–66, book exhibition assistant, 1966–67, periodicals assistant, 1967–72, head of overseas reviews scheme, 1972–81, in design production and publishing department, 1981–82, and book promotion officer, 1983—, British Council, London. Agent: MHA Literary Agents, 62 Grafton Way, London W1P 5LD, England. Address: 2 rue de l'Eveque, 34360 Saint-Chinian, France.



Mendilin Ucundalier (Corners of a Handkerchief). Nicosia, Cardak Yayinevi, 1953.

To Catch a Falling Man. Lowestoft, Suffolk, Scorpion Press, 1963.

Susila in the Autumn Woods. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1974.

Narcissus in a Dry Pool. London, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1978.

Pregnant Shadows. London, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1981.

Selected Poems. Istanbul, Yapi Kredi, 1997.

Fox and the Cradle Makers. Montpellier, Mossy Well Press, 2000.


A Trap for the Burglar. London, Owen, 1965.


Plucked in a Far-Off Land: Images in Self Biography. London, Gollancz, 1970.

Editor, with Osman Türkay, Modern Turkish Poetry. London, Modern Poetry in Translation, 1971.

Translator, Selected Poems of Nazim Hikmet. London, Cape, 1967; New York, Humanities Press, 1968.

Translator, The Moscow Symphony and Other Poems, by Nazim Hikmet. London, Rapp and Whiting, 1970; Chicago, Swallow Press, 1971.

Translator, The Day before Tomorrow, by Nazim Hikmet. Oxford, Carcanet, 1972.

Translator, The Snowy Day/Karli bir gün, by Ezra Jack Keats. London, Bodley Head, 1980.

Translator, Peter's Chair/Peter'in sandalyasi, by Ezra Jack Keats. London, Bodley Head, 1980.


Critical Studies: "Voice Production" by Frederick Grubb, in Poetry Review (London), 1964; "Bigger Than Both of Us" by Bernard Share, in Irish Times (Dublin), 12 June 1965; The Poet Speaks by Peter Orr, London, Routledge, 1966; "Plucked Untimely" by Raymond Gardner, in The Guardian (London), 19 May 1970; "Flame by Flame" by Peter Lewis, in Times Literary Supplement (London), 3 October 1978.

Taner Baybars comments:

In my view a poem is the culmination of an intense experience that could not be expressed in any other form. If it could, then it would cease to be a poem, although it might retain the shape of a poem. Also, because of its intense nature a poem is essentially short. There is an obvious difference between poetry and verse, but that difference nowadays is almost always ignored.

*  *  *

Taner Baybars is a Cypriot whose first book of poems, written in Turkish, was published in Nicosia in 1953. Going to England twelve years later with the expressed intention of studying law (he soon gave up the idea), he decided to stay in London and has adopted English as his literary language with quite remarkable effect. If he experienced any difficulties in writing his poems in a second language, he has enjoyed an advantage over his British contemporaries in that he has remained free of group pressures and influences and has never shown the slightest inclination to follow prevailing fashions in diction or style. His poems, successful or otherwise, have always been quite unlike anyone else's.

The poems in To Catch a Falling Man are arranged in chronological order so that it is possible to trace Baybars's development as a poet throughout the volume. The collection begins with the description of a cycle journey through the English countryside, and the early pieces reflect a simplicity and clarity of vision allied to an unusually sophisticated and well-informed outlook. These qualities are reinforced by a creative mind that enables Baybars to evoke the sense in such phrases as "the coquettish wind perambulating in the wheels" or "the waves unkiss the cliff." Though his themes are quotidian—the demolition of an old house, taking barbitone for sleep, the end of a musical concert, spelling out his name, chopping down a tree, or even the sound of a key turning in the lock—he somehow contrives to surround them with a sinister atmosphere, as in "The Oracle," his poem about a computer:

   We are much honoured; we hold conferences and
   discuss what the most fitting question should be;
   when we find it we march and surround the machine;
   the problem is fed in, the drone irregularly
   distends, no answer is laid. We grow old and visit
   every day the clean, compact brain and wait.

In Baybars's later work the simplicity of his earlier style gives way to a search for the unexpected, for what goes on below the surface of human relationships, for the motives beneath the conversation, for the realities underlying appearances. "Demolishing a House," for example, demonstrates Baybars's skill at piling detail upon detail without overwhelming the poem:

   Yet while I ate and poised the fork in the air,
   the noise of a drill shivered the glass facade,
   the fake plants shook, too, a little afraid.
   I had to open my mouth to let the noise out.
   Then I heard the crash of another falling wall.

Narcissus in a Dry Pool begins where To Catch a Falling Man concludes stylistically. The individual nature of Baybars's enquiry into the phenomena of existence and his odd and sometimes bizarre approach to his subject lend a sort of piquancy to his poems. For a single volume there is a wide range of styles and types of writing, from the three-line haiku to a series of love poems, "Explorations," to "The Loneliness of Columbus," a dramatic monologue. The description in "Circumcision Just before Puberty" leaves nothing to the imagination, but it is nevertheless handled with extraordinary delicacy and understanding. The group of poems "for Susila Jane," his daughter, manifest a new preoccupation, that of observing her gradual introduction to the external world and her development through touch, taste, sight, and smell:

   Seeing your own reflection on a doorknob
   you begin to utter your name, then stop
   in that conflux of brass stained by my hand.
   Who? I hold you against the windowglass.
   You exclaim: Dark! I put you down. You live
   in a galaxy of sounds absorbed by your tongue
   and keeping your name a secret to your tongue
   and grow in full awareness of others.

What seems to impress him most in this exploration of infancy and childhood is the paradox of innocence combined with an almost frightening kind of inner certainty arising from the need for self-fulfillment.

Perhaps most interesting of all are the poems devoted to the relationship between man and woman, the man always being Baybars himself and the woman a particular woman drawn from his private circle. They are, of course, love poems in every sense of the word, yet for Baybars the love relationship is complicated, for his partners are not merely women or lovers. Each, willingly or unwillingly, acquires a symbolic quality that takes its idiosyncratic scope from an aspect of Baybars's experience—for example, his native country, his childhood, his family, or his adolescence—and that inevitably defines the relationship for him.

—Howard Sergeant