Last night a line appeared

Özge Ersoy meditates on translation, collaboration, and conveying texture and time.

Part of the And We Begin Again series—writing from a year-long reading group on community, translation, and getting unstuck.



Translation has been the main form of collaborative writing I’ve worked on so far. Over the past decade, I’ve been part of different groups of five-to-six people, working on the translation of open letters about institutional accountability and the limits of artistic freedom of expression in Turkey. When you sit down in front of an online, shared document like this, you work with a sense of urgency. You translate a paragraph, move to the next one not yet taken by others, and then check for the consistency of the language. You compete against time.

My relationship to time, translation, and collaborative writing changed with a poem. Several years ago, a close friend and I decided to translate Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s lines, from English to Turkish. The poem goes like this:

Last night a line appeared,
Unbidden, unsigned;
It had eight memorable
Syllables. I’ll keep you,

I said, falling asleep.
It’s gone now,
And I write this to requite it,
And to mark its passage.

We took our time to discuss and negotiate every single word. We talked about things we wanted to say and forgot, things we wanted to keep and could not, and things we lost or were in the midst of losing. We spent several hours on eight lines, attempting to create a voice together.

Last year, Paul invited me to be part of a reading group—with old and new friends—to discuss what it means to write together. We contemplated writing letters to each other. We did exquisite corpse exercises to craft short stories. We spoke about how to convey the time we spent together through writing. We asked each other about the texture of our conversations. Really, have you ever thought about the tactility of what you write? We even discussed if we could ever develop a practice of completing each other’s sentences. Could we find a “we” that would be attentive to all six of us?


*   *   *


On February 6th, two major earthquakes devastated Turkey and Syria. I was in Hong Kong, glued to live news, watching rescue operations, politicians in press conferences, and researchers commenting on how we could have prevented tens of thousands of deaths and the inconceivable damages. I reposted calls for donations for NGOs focusing on rescue and emergency aid, and several messages about why we needed to speak about politics and hold accountable those who did not enforce building regulations or grant zoning amnesties before elections. Several friends lost their home, family members, and loved ones. I tried to reach out to them just to say I was thinking of them. Beyond that, I muted myself.


*   *   *


On February 18th, I’m at a music performance that helps formulate my thoughts and process my emotions. A cellist, Charles Curtis, sitting in front of a group of forty people in a dimly-lit room, slowly moved his right arm and the endpin rod back and forth, sweeping downward to create, what seemed to me, a shaky breath. Each movement lasted for about six seconds. Six seconds for each breath. Curtis played Alvin Lucier’s “Glacier” (2001) for twenty-four minutes, which was composed to create a sonic interpretation of a graph showing the melting of thirty glaciers over twenty-four years. I rushed home just to write down this experience, which, initially, I only intended to share with the members of this Asia Art Archive reading/writing group.

This group taught me that writing together is not necessarily about form. It’s about time that you spend with friends who allow digressive thoughts, moments of self-doubt, and latent fragilities. It’s about reciprocity—an affective one. It’s additive but also elusive, in motion. It’s a commitment to each other. And it’s a commitment we’ve made without even putting it into words.

Many lines have quickly appeared and disappeared over the past months. They’re mostly gone now. I owe a thank you to Bruce, Christine, Paul, Sam, and Ysabelle, for helping me to mark their passage.



Özge Ersoy is Senior Curator at Asia Art Archive.

Banner illustration: Jocelin Kee. 




Fri, 13 Oct 2023

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And We Begin Again
Part of series

And We Begin Again

Writing from a year-long reading group on community, translation, and getting unstuck