Robyn Rowland is an Irish-Australian citizen and has lived between Ireland, Australia, and Turkey for over 30 years. She has been working, teaching, and studying in Turkey since 2009. She lived in Australia from December 2019 until late 2022 to care for her father, who died at the age of 102. She has been writing poetry for over 50 years and has won many awards in many countries with her poems. She has 14 books, 11 of which are poetry.

Robyn Rowland has published numerous book reviews, magazine articles and book chapters on literature and poetry. Her poetry has appeared in national/international journals in nine countries, in more than forty-five anthologies, and in eight editions of Best Australian Poems and Being Human (ed. Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2011). India, Portugal, Ireland, the UK, USA. She has read his poetry at major literary festivals in Greece, Austria, Bosnia, Serbia, Turkey, and Italy. She has translated translations in many of these countries. Filmed reading poetry for the National Irish Poetry Reading Archive, James Joyce Library, UCD, .com/watch?v=E-gzWdQlBEE

Professor Rowland was the First Chair of the Deakin University School of Social Studies and director of the Australian Centre for Women’s Studies before she was diagnosed with breast cancer and left academia in 1996. He has worked as an editor and referee in many international journals. Professor Dr Rowland has published over 100 journal articles and chapters and presented over 100 public speaking or conference papers. In the 1996 Australian Government Honours List, she was made an Officer in the Order of Australia by the Governor General for her contribution to women’s health and higher education.

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Talha Erçevikbaş: If you don’t mind, let’s start with that question because our topic is poetry: According to you, what does poetry mean? Who is the poet?

Robyn Rowland: Poetry is not something we do, but something we be. It is so unrecognised in the greater world, that we need to be called to it, to be able to survive invisibility, failure and blockages.  I wrote in an article once:

Poetry can animate everything, so that life itself breathes through the line. It remembers passion. … It can make us alive to something new or remembered. Coming out of the ordinary or the mystical, it calls us to ourselves; drawing into view the inner working relationships between the conscious and the unconscious; the passionate intensity of the feeling life as well as the corrugated pathways of thought. Using image to speak, it inspires awe at the way the poet can condense experience on the page…. Poetry can inform, renew, move, uncover understanding, create change’.

Robyn Rowland, ‘De-lyricising the lyric?’

T.E: When did you start writing poetry? How have your favourite poets influenced you?

R.R: I’ve been writing poetry since I was eleven years old. I think it came out of silence, out of a childhood experienced as lonely and silent. Poems in my fifth book Silence and its Tongues (Five Islands Press, 2006) covers this territory. I have a passion for words and language, and I think it is because there I’m free; there I am more myself than in any other place. For me, it is the first language, that which comes before speech and is hidden in the recesses of being we are only able to glimpse in the writing and creative process itself.

The poets I admire who influence me are those whose poetry has meaning, is not obscure, relates to living, has a purpose, is beautiful and original in its use of language and metaphor. I find Irish poetry engages me powerfully. But I also loved the earlier Australian narrative poets my father brought me up on. Their use of adjectives, their fearlessness with regard to them. I learned through their rhyming poetry that words can sing. In the free verse I write, it is harder to find internal rhythm. But worthwhile. Through feminist and confessional poets, I learned to be unafraid of emotion, I like work which has an authenticity of experience and feeling in it.

T.E: Is there something that you draw inspiration from when writing poetry or that you consider indispensable? Are you looking for inspiration, or does inspiration find you? In other words, what is your source of inspiration when writing poetry? For example, would you be able to prepare an environment while writing your poetry?

R.R: So many questions here! I like to be in nature and to be near water. These feed my writing soul. The Irish landscape particularly inspired me, it is my soul place.  In earlier work I wrote out of life experience as it happened: love, loss, death, family, age, breast cancer, depression. Then I started to enter history, earlier with poems about the young men who were kamikaze pilots from Japan in World War 2. I wrote about women’s experiences with violence. Then I became a great traveller poet, and so learned about a broader world. I have always loved history, ancient and modern.  More recent books, Mosaics from the Map, for example, (Doire Press, 2018) explores history is in the intimate. Personal stories explore war, change, family and friendship – in Ireland, Turkey, the Balkans and Australia.

My recent two books are bi-lingual with translations by Mehmet Ali Çelikel. This Intimate War Gallipoli/Çanakkale 1915 – İçli Dışlı Bir Savaş: Gelibolu/Çanakkale 1915 (2015). History in poetry or what I call Documentary poetry, it covers the stories of Turkish and of Irish, Australian, and allied forces, families, and people during that war. The research I did for it was extensive: books, articles, biographies, film, archival material and speaking with people in a number of countries. Soldiers, women munitions workers, painters, poets, airmen, mothers – all these stories into poetry. 

Then, a happier book! Under This Saffron Sun / Safran Güneşin Altında (Knocknarone Press, 2019) returns to Turkey; capturing place, friendship, change and uncovering the similarities between peoples which unite us all, rather than divide. It gently alludes to Syrian refugees, to the desire for peace and for stability, to hold onto the things which bind. Mostly, it is about friendship, different ways with love and place.

T.E: What do you think is the way to capture universal language and themes in poetry? For example, how effective is poetry regarding freedom and human rights?

R.R: Poetry is more important politically in countries where it is highly respected and widely read and therefore can be relied upon to have a political impact. In Australia and Ireland this is not so. But it many other countries it is: writing can be seen as a powerful threat.

T.E:  Is a good poet also a good reader of poetry? What are the subtleties of reading poetry?

R.R: Not necessarily, sadly. Some poets do not do justice to their work in the reading of it. I like to read my work to audiences because in doing that I both revisit the experience which informs the writing of the poem, and the experience of its creation. Also, I love to watch the poem impact on a listener. And I’ve been told I’m good at it. I have 2 CDs of poetry: Silver Leaving – Poems & Harp with Lynn Saoirse, and Off the Tongue.

T.E: What literature do you consider yourself interested in, apart from poetry?

R.R: I love historical books and research, and novels!

T.E:  Every poem has a story, even if it is small. Do you have a poem whose story you can’t forget? Can you share it with us?

R.R: There are many! I can give you two here. One a love poem; one a war poem. My poems are narrative, so they are often long. I’ve tried to choose shorter ones here:

Night Ravings

They dreamed the dreams of dirt,

flailing, being buried alive in

trenches bombed to splinters

that shredded eye and bone.

Silence made them edgy.

Bombardment, thunderous and rattling,

was the song by day and by night.

Torrents of metal shards

were new birds in their skies.

They knew sea-blue was a colour of the past –

now red everywhere, tawny rock, white snow.

Rats ate their hair while they slept.

They wrapped their faces against

pincers of enemy and nature.

Lousy, their skin removed itself constantly,

was a peeling unveiling thing of its own nature,

creeping backward for the memories 

of smooth bronze summers

on Kızıl Adalar or Bawley Point.

The brain kept telling them

listen to the boss, the captain, the commander,

while their legs yearned to run anywhere, backwards.

They knew that in the bowl of their brain 

their friends remained whole, young, happy. 

But their bloodied hands collecting fleshy jigsaw-pieces 

learned the lie as open graves filled up,

and no way of knowing who was in there.


The wind is wild through the olive trees,

through the windows of the fast minibus, 

through my hair. Like on his motorbike, 

gripping him tight, engine revving uphill — 

I am a wind-vane in chaos. 

We head for Ezine and my long trip home, 

that intangible place, a shifting focus,

a moving heart, a soul gripped and ungripped by love. 

I have taken off the shell ring he gave me 

from the beach, packed it carefully away, 

shelved like the too-many years between us.

Cut by shore-rocks, worn by sea and its tumble,

its beauty is in its worn nature.

Passengers are crushed to each other.

I feel bonded to their journey, cocooned 

in the soft rumble of Turkish voices. His eyes alive, 

he talks broken words into patterns that make it work,

this companionship, this shared friendship. Young man,

older woman, we reflect on parting again, speeding 

toward the same bus that last time took me away confused, 

trying to find a word for this. Do you remember? he asks. 

Of course. Warm, suntanned and sea-salted, my body 

is fluid, heart softened by his attention, his smooth hands 

protective. Shielding me, he has taken charge. 

I could travel like this forever, his leg pressed on mine, 

ethereal happiness suddenly pausing here. 

False heaven, he muses. Perhaps. But heaven anyway.

T.E: World War One, Gallipoli Çanakkale is very important in our Turkish and Australian history. All authors from different countries mentioned about Gallipoli with Turkish & Australian songs, poetries and stories. What you think about this point and and what affected you to write your book This Intimate War Gallipoli/Çanakkale 1915 – İçli Dışlı Bir Savaş: Gelibolu/Çanakkale 1915?

R.R: My sister-in-law, sadly now divorced, is Turkish/Australian. In 2009 urged by our interest in archaeology, I went with my younger son, then 16, to Turkey for six weeks. I asked for a Turkish guide for the fields of Gallipoli. I was shocked by so much there.

On a second trip aimed at studying the Suleiman Kanuni period, I was shocked and captured by an experience in Çanakkale. Visiting the Naval Museum there, I learned the Gallipoli story from the Turkish viewpoint and the history of the Battle of Çanakkale, of which I was ignorant. It was uncomfortable to find myself identified with the enemy, the aggressor.

When I was in primary school, I grew up with the story every Anzac Day about ‘our brave boys’ who went to war. I knew nothing about politics or different cultures. I knew nothing about the Ottoman Empire. I did not know that before Gallipoli, on 18 March 1915, the Ottomans, with few resources, defeated the British Navy, then the greatest navy in the world. When the film ‘Gallipoli’ starring Mel Gibson came out in 1981, and the story became a tragedy perpetrated by British leaders who used ‘our boys’ as fodder. There was no mention of ‘their boys’, the Turkish sons. 

The book is historically accurate. But it is not a history. It is poetry out of history. It is my attempt to put balance into the Anzac story and to create a book that Australians, the Allies and the Turks will relate to. I had to work hard to find a publisher and funding for it in bilingual form, as I’m believed so strongly that both English and Turkish should be together side-by-side in this book as the soldiers faced each other over the trenches.

T.E: I  am someone who served in the military in Gallipoli 15 years ago. Anzacs come to our country every year from Australia to commemorate the Anzacs. I find this very important for the consolidation of the historical and cultural relations between the two countries, what do you think about this point? 

R.R: With many Turkish friends now, I’m always amazed at the forgiveness Turkey expresses towards Australia, though the words of Attaturk helped with that. That friendship continues with my translator Mehmet Ali Çelikel, and with the painter, Fehmi Korkut Uluğ,  who allowed us to use his paintings on the cover of the two editions of my book. ‘ Mehmetçik ve Johnny Mehmetçik’  represents so well the unusual relationship created during the Gallipoli/Çanakkale wars because ‘ at first glance it is not clear which is the Turk and which the invader, or who is supporting whom’.  (Rhoden Clare ‘“Poppy-Hunters, Poppy-Picking”: Review of Robyn Rowland This Intimate War: Gallipoli/ Canakkale 1915’ (2015) 19(2) . ( My coming across his Gallipoli series, my inclusion of a poem on it and the fact of his grandfather having fought at Gallipoli and survived, form one of the notable and mystic stories that accompanied the writing and production of this book.

T.E: Can you share your experiences with us about Turkey and Turkish society?

R.R: I love being in Turkey, but I do find the language difficult to learn. I have words but not sentences! I hope to live in one place there as I have traveled around the country quite a lot. I have found the kindness overwhelming and so appreciate that. No-one leaves me lost, struggling. The layers of culture are so wonderful and I learn so much on each visit every year. But to stay longer, I need to work. I like to do readings and teach workshops.

T.E: Can you share with us some of the poems you wrote about Canakkale with English and Turkish translations?

R.R: You have one of these above, so let me give you a Bozcaada poem, which speaks of the power of friendship. 

At Anchor, Salhane               

 for Meral, Bozcaada Island, Turkey

Salhane, old slaughterhouse on the island,  

its animal souls scarified by vandals, has been cleansed, 

retiled. Dancers disco long into the night, 

music thumping the village. By day, silence.

Daylight becalms us at this end of the harbour path.

We sit with Turkish coffee, only for me.

You are practising oruç, fasting for Ramazan,

dry as a bean in this heat. Yet each day you prepare 

my breakfast in Alesta Hotel, a feast of cheeses, 

tomatoes, green peppers, white mulberries; 

jams thick with apple and carrot, poppy, green fig.

Adalet cracks walnuts, sitting on your sun-warmed step. 

But no food or fluid will pass your lips until night falls. 

In the shade of this owl-grey volcanic rock, massive 

above us at water’s edge, we watch the castle basking, 

a strange sea-creature floating in its element.

One cormorant is fishing with speed, not accuracy,

its prey lightning through the water.

In clear shallows a crab with one great claw 

eases its way over mossy stones shovelling food

into its mouth. Small mauve flowers spring 

from concrete steps and we wonder how they grow, 

no soil, no water, simply appearing. 

Stillness wraps us round in a restful ease.

Long after our countries were at war,

a pattern woven by some other hand brought 

two people together across a world of chaos, 

joined out of difference, but of the same cloth. 

I bring you an oak in Irish pewter to wear at your neck, 

not knowing that same perfectly shaped tree, 

meşe ağacı, is your favourite on the island. 

The very shade of wine red I’ve searched for in markets

you give me in a soft throw for my Irish house, 

embroidered in gold by your mother on your marriage. 

Peace is lapping. One moment more in silence before 

ezan, prayer call. Heat of the day is leaving its rose polish 

a shimmer on our cheeks. Lulled, I turn my head, waiting.

T.E: As we end our questions, what are your suggestions for those interested in poetry, reading poetry, and especially writing and wanting to write poetry?

R.R: Be alive to your senses. Taste, smell, feel life on your skin; notice colour, movement, feel life with your heart as well as your mind. Learn the transforming power of metaphor. Notice, listen, observe, record. Be curious. Witness. Listen to people. And read poetry, novels, history, even newspapers! Everything will bring the story to you.

T.E: I think that this wealth of history is an opportunity for cultural dialogue between the two countries and will strengthen peace in the World. You are one of the people who make the biggest contribution to this with your books. Thank you.