On Orhan Veli Kanik

I’m going to level with you; I know nothing about Turkey and I know even less about Turkish Poetry. Luckily, I have Buké, my sole Turkish friend. Buké is tiny, smokes cigarettes, and speaks with a directness that can sometimes be mistaken for rudeness. It is she who introduced me to the Turkish poet Orhan Veli Kanik (1914-1950). I can’t speak to Kanik’s stature but, like Buké, his poetry is about as direct as a poet can get. Like the work of William Carlos Williams or, more contemporarily, Billy Collins, Kanik’s poems have been described as the kind of poetry that convinces readers they, too, can write a poem. Take, for example, “The Hill”.

In the next life, after the factories end their work
If the road taking us home
In the evenings
Is not
So steep
Is not a horrible thing
At all.

It reads like something your grandfather might say and that’s what makes it so effective. A good poem is a story that never gets old. It stays with you and no matter how often you tell it there remains the same spark of truth. In “People”, Kanik expresses a single thought simply and profoundly. The profundity is apparent upon first reading but the genius of it is a slow burn.

All the time
But particularly
When I know you don’t love me.
I wish to see you
Like the people I saw
Sitting on my mother’s lap
As a kid…

Unencumbered by ornament and deceptively simple, Kanik’s poems are as accessible as they are insightful. They’re a bit like the blues. Turkish blues. Is that a thing?

Here’s my own poem, not exactly inspired by Kanik but in the same tradition.

if you come in last place
and still manage to break records
it’s all well and good
but sooner or later you’ll come to find out
that you’re only racing dead people

Read Orhan Veli Kanik’s book “I, Orhan Veli” online: http://www.cs.rpi.edu/~sibel/poetry/books/i_orhan_veli/

More on Orhan Veli:

Articles – Published in The Operating System, 2012

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