Putting Children into the World Arithmetic is Good, Birds very Good

Arithmetic is Good, Birds Very Good is the “childish” way of Süreya’s using “unusual images in an unusual way”.

Cemal Süreya, who is known as a poet writing in the Second New (İkinci Yeni), publishes a series consisting of twelve adventures in a column, namely Arithmetic is Good, Birds very Good (Aritmetik İyi Kuşlar Pek İyi) in Çocukça magazine in 1984 and 1985. In addition to the tales and an interview made by Necati Güngör, who prepared the book, the compilation of these texts published as a part of Doğan Kardeş series from Yapı Kredi Publications includes Süreya’s notes from his diary on child literature, namely The Days. Consisting of short distinctive tales that were written on the ground of instant imaginations and revealing the differences in Cemal Süreya’s views about the children’s literature, the book seems to aim at children to develop a critical perspective coincided with the idea of freedom towards literature and life in general.

Named as an adventure by Doğan Kardeş series, some of these texts could be classified under the story genre while the others are like essays in which the author and the reader make conversation. From the first two texts of the column, “Dark Blue Silk Helicopter” and “Laugh”, the texts that are examples of metafiction aims to establish a link between the reader and the tales. We understand the relationship between the man, who is described as “glass wearing leek”, and the expert, who leads this man about which the topics might be considered in the column. Addressing the reader continuously, the narrator makes clear which points he considered throughout the column and what kind of world he wants to create for children through the dialogs between the “leek man” and the narrator. “I believe that there is no need for a separate child literature… There is only literature. Children get benefit from this –only from the suitable ones for themselves- as much as they can. The word “the children’s literature” carries an implication that underestimates them.” (Güngör 9-10). These words are in parallelism with the narrator of the column who reveals the similar ideas in his dialogs with the wise-leek-man. The atmosphere common that in all the parts of the texts is characterized by the fluent language of the author. The leek-man’s first advice to a writer who does not know how to write: “Never forget this: Children can understand everything. You can talk to them about everything, even about the inflation.” (26). The reader is also fictionalised here; here the child reader is not a group that does not interfere with the world of adult, nor a group waiting to grow up to be involved with their matters; rather, they think that they understand everything, even though they do not; more important, they are the ones who wants to know about the world of adults. Thus, it would not be strange to talk to the child reader about wars, pollution and Turkish tomato sale to Iraq and Iran in this column. The narrator of the column undertakes the task of teaching in these tales by touching upon such topics -as it is the case for many other tales-. Nonetheless, he receives a warning: “do not be pedantic. Talk about also the adventures and dreams” (26) and the warning continues with this sentence showing the main goal of the column: “Your job is an attempt to create a taste for reading.” (27). The metafiction of the text is become crystal clear by the narrator’s involvement to the text as well as the expression that the first text was formed at the end of this dialog. In Laugh, the importance of laughing is highlighted with the dialog between the narrator and the leek-man. The idea that sensitivity and the didacticism must continue synchronously is stated through these words: “Why should not you be more sincere? You should focus on minor things, which are crucial and must be based on the reality.” Perceiving the reality through a childish consciousness and developing his/her character simultaneously becomes essential for the reader.

Apart from these two, there is not any other example for the tales strongly connected to each other. However, there are some close to each other in terms of their context and the literary style. “Behçet Necatigil”, “Six Books”, “Four Major Poets” and “He Had Two Mothers” are to strengthen the literary understanding and to consolidate reading habit of children, though they differ in their styles. The target is to arouse curiosity in children for aforementioned people and books and to constitute an intellectual background in them. In Behçet Necatigil, the narrator prefers a style based on verses instead of prose with his poetic language. Rather than adopting a childish style to make the text more understandable for the child reader, the text is composed of poetic verses to create a sense of familiarity in their minds: “Let the seconds to say noun suffixes of home/ Home, to home, of home, at home, from home/Let the minutes to say ours/I, you, s/he, we, you, they” (30). In “Six Books” the narrator strongly advices some books to the children to read: The Little Prince, Red Balloon, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson. At this point, the narrator talks to the reader and creates atmosphere where the feelings of pedantry and friendship dominates: “(…) you will read, won’t you? Otherwise, we will contest. Do not say what happens if we contest, I read that book one more time on behalf of you” (33). He continues saying something to consolidate the friendship between him and the children: “Whatever you find, you should read it. When you cannot find anything… Then, sit down and write a letter to me” (34). In addition to encouraging the children to read and to write, the narrator giving advises to the children leads them to gain an intellectual capital. Süreya adds one more text, Four Major Poets, which consists of dialogues, unlike the previous ones which are in the form of the essay where the author talks in a didactic atmosphere. He also shares two months, in which the memorial day of four major poets occurs, with children. The narrator maintains his didactic position as if he talks to a fictionalized child and talks about some famous Turkish poets such as Yahya Kemal Beyatlı, Namık Kemal, Ahmet Haşim and Orhan Veli. Sureya gives more detailed information from “the world of adults” to the children who have general knowledge about these authors. He encourages them to read these authors with curiosity. He authorizes himself to place the idea that no major poet superior to the others, unlike the horses competing to win the first, the second of the third position (41). He criticizes the ranking-oriented educational system with a quotation from Ahmet Haşim. He also objects to the child who asserts that the language of the verse is old enough to be understood: “He has poems you can understand today. You just read them.” (41). He keeps contributing to the intellectual capital of the reader of Çocukça magazine by referring Illiad of Homer and new other names: Edip Cansever, Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca, Hilmi Yavuz who were alive at that time and can be read according to him. On the other hand, He had Two Mothers touches upon some parts of Ahmed Arif’s life and gets close to essay genre in respect of its was of narration using self-narrative form. Talking about a poet who was grown up by a stepmother whom he loves so much, he employs sentences full of humanism and love for life, rather than arrogant ones. The following sentences are written after the loss of a parent figure:

If one of them is gone, we should not forget that the newcomer is also a human being. Stepmother and stepfather figures in the tales should not mislead us. We should see her/him as a human and as a close person. We should do our duty. Keep in mind that everything is mutual. Love attracts love. We should not wait for everything from the other side. Let’s take a step. (45) 

He adds five ways to communicate with step-relatives peacefully at the end of the text and continues to increase feelings of love and hope.

In the other five tales, the narrator interviews with the didactic and imaginary characters who focus on various topics. The tale I Talked to Ceren Doğan is similar to others in terms of its fiction while differing from them in the way how an imaginary character is involved in the tale. This text is formed with a first-level student’s the involvement to the text as a model without any intervention. This fictional interview includes a question about cultural life stands in children’s lives? It begins with, “what is a letter?” and continues with the questions about school life, books she read, children television series and films she watched. The most distinctive message is made clear with the question whether if Ceren has a critique about these films or series or school. The narrator wants to create an “individual-child” who is able to think critically about what s/he saw, to generate ideas about it. This effort is common throughout all stories existing in the book.

Children’s desire to understand the world with their own approach is based on the author’s desire to make them special in the way they perceive what they are thought. The child character of The Colours Were Not Dying associates his knowledge with the social life. “At one moment, he thought that all the books were walking on the streets. A man is taking money from his pocket and buys napkins from the kiosk. They both are coming from the Social Sciences class. When he talks, Grammar emerges. The worker in the kiosk gives the change. This is Arithmetic (65). Thus, apart from giving the lesson that the school is the life itself, not just a school, life can be seen as a school. The tone both in this tale and in the others is gripping. Süreya writes all these in a poetic style without a doubt about whether that he would not be understood. “Fresh newspaper smells. Alphabet smell on the first grade. The weather was cold but there was a warmness of being alive and walking on that street… A man was coughing. A cough thousand years old.” (64). The parts in which he describes the literary genres are very striking. The genres are present there as in the case of the series of notions he wants to form in the minds of children. “Buses are overcrowded. Each of these people is a particular person; they all have different longings; all these make it Novel, do not they? What about Poem? Is it the complicated but beautiful emotion caused by all of these?” (66). At the column, personal descriptions are put to be guides for the ones who would search for the ways of interiorizing notions and teachings by looking to life. Cities at New Year Eve, Lonely Island, Famous Painter and Advertisements are the texts which are in parallelism but also original ones, stimulating and allowing the reader to have new perspectives, and to develop critical skills and personal understanding by viewing the world from a special perspective.

Arithmetic is Good, Birds Very Good is the “childish” way of Süreya’s using “unusual images in an unusual way”. The book, which is a compilation of a magazine column tales in which twelve different lives were shown in various ways, helps to develop personalities of children by teaching them new perspectives. It also allows children to express themselves with a critical view beyond the settled systems. Rather than adopting the classical ways that are quite easy for the child reader to understand, the children’s literature in Arithmetic is Good Birds Very Good focuses on the involvement of children in the real life and aims to employ colourful ways to develop their adventures toward being an individual.



Süreya, Cemal. Aritmetik İyi Kuşlar Pekiyi. İstanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2017.