Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Nazim Hikmet

It's a real gift to be able to read a poet's work (albeit in translation) after visiting his or her country. It's not that one gains a lot, or even much, knowledge of the place with merely one visit, but even getting a basic sense of a country's physical presence and different social behaviors helps with reading poetry.

So it is with Nazim Hikmet's poetry after I visited Istanbul, where he grew up. His life was not easy, as his early affiliation with socialist principles and communism didn't mesh with Turkish government in the 1930s, when he was arrested and imprisoned. Even after getting out of prison, he was harassed and threatened. Eventually he spent many years in exile.

He's credited with loosening up Turkish poetry, pretty much introducing free verse, writing long discursive, colloquial poems.

For as much grief as he suffered on account of politics, his poetry remained optimistic, buoyant, funny, and quick. The volume I'm reading is Poems of Nazim Hikment, translated by Blasing and Konuk, with a forward by Carolyn Forsche. It's published by Persea Books.

Here is an excerpt from a poem called "Regarding Art":

Sometimes I, too, tell the ah's
of my heart one by one
like the blood-red beads
of a ruby rosary strung
on strands of golden hair!

But my
poetry's muse
takes to the air
on wings made of steel
like the I-beams
of my suspension bridges!

--by Nazim Hikmet

I saw many middle-aged and older men in Istanbul who carried ruby rosaries; it's just that sort of small detail that enhances a reading of poetry in ways that aren't quantifiable.

Poems of Nazim Hikmet, Revised and Expanded Edition

Beyond the Walls: Selected Poems
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