July Issue Highlight: On Rainbows and Resistance

Blog editor Katrine Øgaard Jensen recommends one of her favorite reads from our brand new issue

In case you’re hungry for more recommendations after reading the blog’s 5 Must-Read Pieces from our New July Issue, here’s a write-up about something that’s stuck with me since its publication last Wednesday.

In our latest issue of Asymptote, I was particularly excited to discover three poems by Turkish Gökçenur Ç, author of six poetry collections and Turkish translator of Wallace Stevens, Paul Auster, and Ursula K. Le Guin. I was drawn in by Gökçenur Ç’s first poem, “We’re in the World, So Are Words, How Nice that We’re All Here,” in which intriguingly short, self-contained thoughts such as “Morning is hissing like an empty tap” and “The shadow of a hawk strikes your shadow, / neither you nor the hawk is aware of this” make up the entire piece. This is also the format of the third poem, “I Watch with Love Like a Stupid Student,” which wraps up the three poems nicely.

What moved me most, however, was Gökçenur Ç’s second poem,“Resistance Diaries,” which chronicles the demonstrations that occurred in Istanbul’s Gezi Park in the spring of 2013 and begins like this:

The first three days we didn’t realize summer was here.
On the fourth day they set fire to the tents while we slept.

These protests have been compared to the Occupy movement and events of May 1968. Though Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has attempted to dismiss the protesters as “a few looters,” some 3.5 million of Turkey’s 80 million people are estimated to have taken part in almost five thousand demonstrations connected with the original Gezi Park protest.

I remember following the events intensely in 2013, as several of my journalist friends were reporting from protests across Turkey. But “Resistance Diaries” is the first poem in English translation I’ve read about the Gezi Park protest so far (please link in the comments section if you know of others!), and it’s connected me with the emotions of the protesters better than any article I’ve read.

The colors, accustomed to being loved in pairs, mixed together.
But there were more days to shout that the rainbow wasn’t an illness
of the sky.

Gökçenur Ç’s words have been sensitively rendered in English translation by Erik Mortenson, an assistant professor of English and comparative literature at Koç University in Istanbul, and—fittingly—the author of two books on literature in political context. Don’t miss this reminder about why poetry, protest, and translation matter so much.