Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"I am Listening to Istanbul"

"I am Listening to Istanbul"
by Orhan Veli Kanik
I had a young Turkish teenage friend who was supposed to be learning English from me, but he was just as much the teacher, as he delighted in bringing me weekly linguistic treasure from his culture. We fell into the habit of each bringing each other one masterpiece from our native language every week. Of course, while his authors were Turkish, I had to read his offerings in English.

If you want to deepen your love of your own culture and language, try to narrow down your favorite creations to one masterpiece a week. It's hard! I shared Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" and my young friend said "If -- playing on the title -- If -- you believe there are men like that, you'll be single forever!" I had to laugh.

Then I shared another favorite: Teddy Roosevelt's "In the Arena." He liked that one. And yet another wonderful poem to share was "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost because my friend felt such delight when he instantly understood the metaphor at the end. "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley with its famous last two lines, and "Ozymandias" with its sly message against pride were hits. It was especially fun for me to pull out as many inspiring masculine poems as I could find and still I hadn't even yet cracked open the poetry books of Robert Service or shared Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire." 

One masterpiece he shared with me from Turkish culture was the poem by Orhan Veli Kanik, "I am listening to Istanbul." My young friend read it to me in English. Now I think I know enough of the original language, I am going to try and learn it in Turkish. Maybe there are other poems I should try. Is there a more beautiful context for learning language?

"I have come to love English." my student said at the end of our time together. We ran out of weeks before I ran out of masterpieces.

The time we get to share with someone is so short, whomever it may be. I am so grateful for that experience.

Whom are you sharing with that brings you joy? Be grateful to share this moment. Appreciate it with enthusiasm, even if only to yourself.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Having a Morning Wander in Cihangir

One of my rules of life is that each day must include discovery. I recently moved into a new flat in Istanbul and decided the morning after moving day to see what my neighborhood had to offer.
Looking down my street to the Bosphorus
There's a busy street at the bottom
but it is easy to cross over or under.
A bit of cheerful tromp l'oeil as I walk by.
An Ottoman Grave preserved behind a shop window,
the turban signifies he was a man,
presumably named Sofu Baba.
People slip into the small room to pray.
I wonder what his story is!
Not everything is exotic
Domino's scooters,
complete with an advertisement on the box,
for a 30-minute guarantee.
In Istanbul, it seems you can get everything delivered.
If all you want is one single hamburger,
 someone on a scooter will race over to your house with it -
and I do mean "race."
Scooter drivers seem to drive like stuntmen.
The bread seller loaded down
with his morning wares.
How fantastic is this?
A yoga studio on my street.
I pause a moment to appreciate the beautiful tile work
in the underpass.
One of the Ottoman sultans loved tulips
and tulips have been a recurring theme in Istanbul
 ever since.
Morning commuters rushing off the ferry.
They have either come from the Asian side
or one of the islands.
A beautiful Ottoman-era public fountain
constructed out of marble
It's common to run across film crews
in central Istanbul
I've seen up to four cruise ships
docked end-to-end in this Bosphorus port.
Pinch this Iowa girl!
I've never lived within walking distance
of salt water.
Beautiful Ottoman script over a public fountain
Ottoman window detailing
Looking back up the hills:
how does the average 8-year-old in Istanbul
resist this chute?
It just screams "TOY"
to my inner child.
I can't help but imagine marbles...melons...
water balloons... little Mehmet...
rolling all the way down to the street.
Kids, don't try this at home.
 Coming across a nargile station
connected to the popular nargile cafe
in front of the Istanbul Modern Art Museum.
I've been to this cafe before.
 It's easy to get comfortable on their big divans
shaped in a semi-circle
and contemplate life at a slower pace.
The divans can fit you and up to eight of your friends.
I don't know if these are new or old coals.
Right in front of all of the cruise ships
is the Istanbul Modern Art Museum.

Can it be?
I live within walking distance of the
Istanbul equivalent of MOMA
(the Museum of Modern Art)?
Pinch me twice!
Taking a closer look at the life boats.
 It fascinated me that this was the first shop
cruise passengers see as they leave the ship.

According to the staff, this dock served Russian freighters
before cruise ships and the freighter's vendors haven't moved yet.
 A view of Nusretiye Camii (mosque)
from the Nargile Cafe
 The mosque was built in 1825.
Let's walk around to the front of it.
Looking up at the minarets.
It's a beautiful day.
Isn't it fun to discover?
Can you guess what affected these trees
outside sidewalk cafes?
An example of the renovation
that is occuring all over Istanbul.
This will probably be a hotel
or new condominums.
The shore road takes us back into
more of the industrial part.
You don't run across one of these everyday!
A maritime shop
selling ? What is this exactly?
I know the shape from the movies
but I can't name it.
I have better luck naming this -
a captain's wheel.
I wonder if ships keep a spare.
I can't imagine they'd want to be without one.
The man minding the shop good-naturedly put up
with my poking around. It was fun to imagine an
alternative life as a merchant mariner.
Merchant mariners have better poetry
than most industrial sectors
but I think I'd get sea sick.
I never imagined spies advertising!
Let's keep our eyes peeled for him...or her.
Discovery and mystery on my morning wander
...the perfect combination.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pray that the Road is Long

Recently a friend shared a poem with me that she said reminded her of me.

I had never heard of this poem, but upon reading it, I enjoyed the compliment.  It is a wonderful poem that I now share with you.  Do you have an ''Ithaca?''

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.

It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"We are here because enough people ignored the voices who told them that the world could not change!"

What's Latin for "they came, they saw, they charmed?" That's what President and Mrs. Obama did when he spoke to the Czech people on April 5th, 2009 on a hazy Sunday morning at Hradcany Namesti (Prague Castle Square).

Beginning with Czech history from Chicago (something well-known to Czech people and hardly known outside of Chicago within America), President Obama shared his Chicago roots in a way that charmed the Czechs and Americans like me in the audience. He honored Czech people for things they love about themselves and by extension, that Czechs teach foreigners to love about them as well: their humor, their high level of culture, their "unconquerable spirit despite empires rising and falling, and the "revolutions ... led in arts and sciences, politics, and poetry. "

My very favorite part of the speech was one I did not expect. When he was establishing connection with his Czech audience, President Obama talked about the improbability of him serving the United States as President and of Czech people being free to live their lives in democracy:

"We are here today because enough people ignored the voices who told them that the world could not change."

What a perfect thing to say to a nation of skeptics who don't believe that democracy will change anything, who don't believe that corruption can ever end, and that don't believe their politicians will stop arguing and start governing. President Obama was asking Czechs to believe. It was easily the most moving part of his speech.

He was asking them to recognize their own power as citizens and visionaries if they organize and work for and believe in change. After all, it was their first democratically-elected President, President Vaclav Havel, who proved that "moral leadership is more important than any weapon." Believe, Czech people, believe!

He did not come here to argue the merits of the proposed missile defense system to the Czech people. He aimed much bigger than that. He came to propose a nuclear-free world. Now if any other politician proposed such a thing in a speech, I have to admit, I would roll my eyes that he expected me to believe such a Pollyanna vision is possible. But if there is anything I have learned about my President is that he accomplishes things that others might not even dream up. This is a man who had his credit card denied trying to get into the Democratic convention in 2000 in Los Angelas just so he could attend and eight years later was the nominee of his party. I'm not discounting the possibility that he could actually do it.

He broke the whole idea of eliminating nuclear weapons down to manageable short-term goals, any one of which would be an accomplishment in it's own right. Godspeed, Mr. President.

He even labeled the Czech Republic as a being in the heart of Central Europe, not Eastern Europe! Americans labelling the Czech Republic as "Eastern Europe" drives Czech people crazy. We Yanks can't help it, we still have that Iron Curtain line in our heads. When I talk to Czech friends my age, I realize they do too. It is a new generation, born in freedom, that has a new reality. Major charm points, President Obama. Thanks for coming to the Czech Republic!

There are great photos of President and Mrs. Obama in Prague on the White House blog dated April 9, 2009 at

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shoved outside the Republican tent

It's getting really ugly in the American election.

I come from a loooong line of Republicans; both of my parents were Republican elected officials and I served as the county chairman for a Republican candidate for President in the Iowa caucuses and the presidential election during the 1990s.

This season, I have been told repeatedly that I don't fit the profile of the people Republicans "approve of" to be pro-American and support their candidate. I"m not from a small town, I'm not from what they consider a "pro-American" part of the country, and this morning on CNN GLOBAL television, there was a Republican pastor attacking the 1.2 million members of my faith, the United Church of Christ, as not "biblical" or "Christian enough" because the denomination supports gay marriage (really, news to me? I've never heard it discussed even once in my church). The reason he singled out my denomination is cause it's the same denomination as Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor.

I can't tell you what it feels like to hear your faith attacked as not "good enough." It's hate speech. And if he would take a look at our congregations, he would see that there's probably a ton of potential Republican voters there. Our congregations actually skew older which is the natural demographic to support the Republican platform. Why alienate us?

I watched the VP debate with six people, who discovered when we all started chatting about our political history, had all left the Republican party cause we no longer felt welcome. Two of them were once elected Republicans. This is exactly what Colin Powell described as the "narrowing" of the party. We have literally been shoved out of the tent.

It reminds me of that poem written by Pastor Martin Niemöller:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

I hope when this election is over, the far right will see that the broad middle are not evil people. We're just people that think everyone in America deserves a voice, regardless of their faith, not just our own folks.
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