The poets of Istanbul

"Ferries now glide in and outOf blinding fog with two lights, grim,Ablaze on each black, dreaming mast."Soul here sails the what-has-been …

The poets of Istanbul

Sidney Wade, American poet

With its opulent layers of history, an east that overlaps with the west and an intimate kaleidoscope of life filling its cities, Turkey has always inspired its own poets. Now the country is seeing one more benefit from opening itself up to the outside world in recent decades. Book after book of excellent poetry about Turkey is being published by English-speaking poets, many of them living in and writing about Istanbul.
The genie of John Ash conjures up secret longings from dead Byzantine emperors and lessons in love from a fruitless wait for a carpenter. There is the delectable fluidity of Sidney Wade, the wry melancholy of Mel Kenne and James Wilde's punching savagery of war. Just some other full-length publications include the theatre of the streets observed with Daniel Pendergrass, gay odes from Edward Foster and monastic meditations by George Messo.
This is not the first time that Istanbul has inspired an outpouring of poetry by English-speaking foreigners, either resident or passing through. A similar flourishing accompanied a period of liberalization in the 1960s, stimulated by the interaction of expatriate and Turkish intellectuals who congregated at Robert College, then an American-run university. It found its expression in The Golden Horn, an annual literary review that stayed in print throughout that decade.
"Two of our poets, Richard Eberhart and Richard Wilbur, won both the Bollingen and Pullitzer prizes," says American John Freely, who was the editor of The Golden Horn. He went on to become a prolific author of histories and English-speaking Istanbul's grand old man of letters. Freely's favorite poet is the late James Lovett, whose work evokes the smells and street cries of the city's pre-mass migration era. Lovett writes, for instance, of an equinox when the autumn run of lüfer, or blue fish, from the Black Sea down the Bosporus was so bounteous that the fish took a wrong turn and boiled up in a silvery churning under the Galata Bridge. Istanbul workers pulled lines and fishhooks out of their "hungry wallets" -- there were almost no rods before the 1990s -- snagged their harvest and took it home wrapped in newsprint

While their housewives huddled in negligés,
Peering down from sunless balconies,
Wait till the coals in their red-hot braziers
Also turn a little blue.


"Lovett evokes an Istanbul that's now lost for ever," says Freely, the father of Maureen Freely, translator of Nobel Prize-winning Orhan Pamuk and one of several new non-Turkish fiction writers who are also experimenting with Turkish themes. "The foreign poets knew the Turkish poets and the Turkish poets knew them. They wrote for each other," he adds. "The city is too big for that now. But what's been written, then and now, is a rich and unmined seam."

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John Ash, the doyen of today's Istanbul poets, arrived in 1996 after 11 years in New York and teaching assignments elsewhere in the United States. From the English city of Manchester, his mind is as sharp and unforgiving as a razor. Now 58, he has quietly won numerous awards from a steady stream of work. Ash was described in 2004 by a reviewer in the leading U.S. magazine Poetry as someone who "could be the best English poet of his generation."
Ash writes in his flat in a backstreet 19th century building not far from the Galata Tower, spinning out poems his spider-web long-hand. Ancient ruins angrily protest at being dug out, patched up and stared at by ignorant crowds. Byzantine emperors have their brains dashed out by soap dishes. A neighbor's Ramadan fast is recorded in metal shutters crashing to the pavement at dusk and soft footfalls from the floor above before dawn. As for fixing leaks:

O Plumbers of Asia,
it is your lyrical and improvisatory
compositions that most delight me,
filled with the sadness of flooded basements.


Everyday scenes also inspire Sidney Wade, a professor of English at Florida University. She lived in Istanbul for two years a decade ago and now returns at least one week a year because the she feels it is the center of the world. "It offers material for new discovery, but provides a comfortable base for these discoveries,¨ the 55-year-old poet says. "It's schizophrenic. It's many layered. There are tensions about its place in the world, east or west, it has never been anchored. That's what we poets like."
When Mel Kenne arrived in 1993, he plunged into Turkish poetry. He was jealous of and inspired by the sweeping flexibility of the Turkish language compared to the black-and-white rigors of English. "When I came here I found my writing took off with a new energy, a new direction," he says. He now feels liberated, no longer culture-bound, no longer even an American poet:

I can't write about my dead
father's cardigan (he never owned one.)
Or the family's Thanksgiving get-together. Thanks, though.


The burly 60-year-old Texan now teaches at Kadir Has University, as John Ash does, and lives in a high walk-up flat overlooking the Golden Horn. Reflecting the growing interest in Turkey, Kenne and another expatriate poet, Jeffrey Kahrs, edited a supplement on Turkish and expatriate poetry last year in the Atlanta Review, a mid-sized U.S. poetry magazine.
A new publication bringing together poets in Turkey with others in the region is the Near East Review, started at Ankara's Bilkent University by George Messo. The 38-year-old English teacher, married to a Turk, often writes about Trabzon and the Black Sea Coast. In one he murmurs to himself, lying on his back waiting in vain for a lone fig to fall "through seven centuries" into his mouth in an Ottoman sultan's garden:

But your shoes are soaked and your overcoat smells of dog.
History will not let you in.


His next project is a book-length poem about life in an Ankara apartment block. "Turkish cities are so in-your-face ... I don't think I'd have ever felt able to write about an English city in this way," he says. "Ankara has a reputation for ugliness, and as a poet I find that enormously liberating."
Daniel Pendergrass, now living in Dubai, learned of the new interest in Turkey in the Arab world when he sent a few verses to an Algerian-owned magazine. The publisher requested the full manuscript and printed the volume forthwith. Less sure-footed than professionals like Ash and Wade, the Alabama-born English teacher has a keen eye nevertheless. A fist-waving anti-American demonstration suddenly unfolds in front of the secret agents, pigeons and himself on Beyazit Square. Just as quickly, though, the crowd rounds on a new "usurper," a police helicopter, and Pendergrass joins in.

I clipped the wings of my lofty indifference
And warmed to the crime of outrageous happiness.


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Who knows if these books will achieve recognition as an "Istanbul School," or whether their verses will simply merge with the work of Turkish poets. The poetry often reflects its common origin in the history and life of Istanbul, and some of the poets meet and edit each other's work. Most juggle work teaching English -- in two cases in the Persian Gulf -- or copywriting. One at least regularly runs out of money, forcing him to shut off his heating and to take loans from friends. Others are independently wealthy, and one lives in a house that is in itself a rich museum of eastern art.
Helping hands are rare. A couple of poets were lucky to find the patronage of a literary-minded Turkish banker, who helped to find publishers and informal scholarships - generous advances in cash passed over restaurant tables in white envelopes, like purses of gold from a benevolent mediaeval prince.
Still, the number of poets is growing as Turkey's booming private education sector sucks in more and more young English teachers with a literary bent.
At the same time, Tony Frazer, editor of poetry publishers Shearsman Books in England, senses a new global literary interest in Turkey. More and more foreigners are visiting and becoming fascinated with Istanbul, he notes, along with Turkish exhibitions abroad, new non-fiction books on the country, the debate about Turkey's possible place in the European Union, and an increased sensitivity to the Islamic world in general.
Not everything in his post box fills him with delight, of course. "There's far too much of the what-I-did-on my-holidays kind of poem, and not enough real insight," he says. "But there is something in the air. And poets have always been good at sniffing such things out."

16.01.2007

HUGH POPE  ÝSTANBUL

 

 

Source :Today's zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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