If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.
—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Can you describe the mood of Izmir as you feel/see it?
This ancient city, which has hosted many cultures throughout its history, is in constant communication with different ports due to its wide harbor. It has inspired many artists and was described as a “princess” by Victor Hugo. As a poet, I have chosen not only to produce here but also to bring what is produced into my own culture. For instance, I established Le Dactylo Méditerranéen, a Franco-Turkish cultural platform. In this city, you can find Turkish, Greek, Byzantine, and Jewish cultures, and they feed each other. Izmir is surrounded by the sea; it is life, a poem.
What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?
Having to leave Izmir to study mechanical engineering at Istanbul Technical University. Leaving Izmir was the most disappointing outcome of a test I thought I had passed. I went to Istanbul carrying what I couldn’t fit in my suitcase in my heart. Years later, I received an award at a festival in Izmir for the poem I wrote about this moment.
What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?
Izmir is a city of many ancient civilizations, and its history goes back 8,000 years.
The thing that surprises me the most is that parchment paper was invented in Izmir. The king of Egypt had forbidden the export of papyrus to Anatolia so that the Library of Pergamon would not exceed the Library of Alexandria. Eumenes II, the king of Bergama (Pergamon), promised great rewards to anyone who invented a new kind of paper. The library director, Crates, processed kid skins so they could be written on and presented them to the king. Parchment paper spread all over the world from Bergama starting in the second century BC. Until the fourth century, papyrus and parchment were both used, and then parchment became the sole writing media until the twelfth century.
Of course, the main purpose of parchment paper was not to write poetry, but I think that this invention was triggered by the cultural treasure that lies in the genes of the city.
What writer(s) from here should we read?
Homer is one of the ancient poets of Izmir, the eternal torch of its cultural spirit. Other writers connected to Izmir: the French writer Marc Levy was born here; Attila İlhan, Giorgos Seferis, and the humanist scholar Adamantios Korais, a pioneer in the development of modern Greek literary language who won the Nobel Prize in 1963, are Smyrnians (when they were born, Izmir was Smyrna).
Is there a place here you return to often?
The street named after the Turkish artist Darío Moreno, whose ancestors immigrated to Izmir from Spain in 1492 and who became very famous in France in the later years of his life thanks to Brigitte Bardot. The house where he was born is located on this street. It is a lively place full of music—like the rest of Izmir—and you can find drawings by painters on the walls. No matter what kind of distress I am feeling, it disappears when I come to this street.
There’s also the ancient city of Ephesus, located in the Selçuk district south of the city. Ephesus houses the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world, where you can understand the spirit of time. The Celsus Library, too, is a place worth getting lost in.
Is there an iconic literary place we should know?
There are plenty of book cafes in this city, but no buildings that can be described as iconic. Homer Valley, named after Homer, is still in Izmir, but this is a place where the people of Izmir often find peace with its natural beauties rather than a literary place.
Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?
Like Ephesus, the ancient city of Pergamon is one of the hidden cities of Izmir. So are Claros, another ancient city, and the historic Kemeraltı bazaar from the Ottoman period. This labyrinthine bazaar, which houses historic inns that reveal new and fascinating things every time you visit, is a city in itself. It’s a place that has allowed Izmir to talk to different port cities for centuries and exchange cultures with them.
Alsancak, very close to Kemeraltı bazaar, carries Izmir’s Ottoman culture as well as its French Levantine culture. Le Printemps des Poètes events, which we organized in Izmir in cooperation with the French Institute and my platform Le Dactylo Méditerranéen, took place here.
Where does passion live here?
In every corner! Izmir is a city whose soul resonates with that of many world cities. You can feel the passion left by ancient cultures.
What is the title of one of your works about Izmir and what inspired it exactly?
My poem “Mother Tongue of Alsancak Train Station” describes the feelings I experienced during my journey to Istanbul. In that poem, all the contradicting emotions that Izmir created in me are presented to the reader: reunion and separation, poverty and wealth, love and alienation, spiritual burden. It has become a poem that reflects my entire relationship with Izmir and pays my debt to the city that nourishes me.
Inspired by Levi, “Outside Izmir does an outside exist?”
Ancient Foça, a district of Izmir, is still breathing in Marseille, which is called “La ville phocéenne.” Thessaloniki is Izmir in Greece, with its culture and historical texture. Darío Moreno is Paris in Izmir and Izmir in Paris.
Deniz Dağdelen Düzgün was born in Izmir. He did his secondary education in the French department of the Anatolian High School of Bornova and graduated from the Mechanical Engineering Department of Istanbul Technical University. In 2015, his first poetry collection, Blue Contradiction, was published by Sıfırdan Editions. His second collection, The Millennial Bee of Serez, was published by Hayal Editions. In 2019, he won the Yaşar Kemal Prize for Poetry for his poem “The Millennial Bee of Serez,” and in 2020, his poem “The Mother Tongue of Alsancak Station” was one of the winners of the Smyrna Literature Competition. He is the founder of the Franco-Turkish and bilingual cultural platform Le Dactylo Méditerranéen, where he hosts French, Francophile, and Turkish artists.
Copyright © 2022 by Deniz Dağdelen Düzgün. All rights reserved.