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Transpositions between poetry and music

Gonca Özmen
DATE: 2019/04/01

Some projects that are based on a dialogue between artists, languages, cultures, and different forms of art can really inspire you as an artist, give urge to create more eagerly, add a new eye, and make you believe in your artistic efforts again.

Divan Berlin – Istanbul is one of them and as a poet, I am very happy that I have the chance to be part of it. The dialogue between poetry and music is well-known throughout the history. The bands were accompanied by music when they were reading their poetry. The Greeks regarded these two as a unity. Even though they become independent in the following years, we have to emphasize that poetry and music are always closely related, are always intertwined in different levels. The playfulness of poetic language most of the time depends on the sound of the words. Fascination in the power of the words is very much like the fascination of the sounds. Thus music, poetry, spoken word and performance have been a part of our societies for centuries. We are organizing festivals, readings, performances, workshops to combine poetry and music throughout the world.

Divan Berlin – Istanbul project that is also called as transpositions between poetry and music brought together 2 metropols, 2 orchestras and 6 poets. Piranha Arts, Goethe-Institute, Tarabya Culture Academy and Bahçeşehir University are the main partners of the project. One orchestra from Berlin, Trickster Orchestra: Cymin Samawatie (vocal/composer), Milian Vogel (bass clarinet/electronic), Ralf Schwarz (contrabass), Korhan Erel (electronics), Simon Stockhausen (electronics), Florian Juncker (trombone), Tilmann Dehnhard (side flute/contrabassflute), Ketan Bhatti (drum/composer) and the other orchestra from Istanbul, Hezarfen Ensemble: Ulrich Mertin (viola), Serhan Halili (quanun), Neva Özgen (kemenche), Sumru Ağıryürüyen (vocal), Erdem Şimşek (saz), Serkan Şener (kaval), Cem Önertürk (flute), Özcan Ulucan (viola). 3 poets from Turkey: Gonca Özmen, Efe Duyan and Gökçenur Ç. and 3 poets from Germany: Matthias Göritz, Nadja Küchenmeister and Monika Rinck. We all came together in order to create a new dialogue between words and sounds, music instruments, Turkish and German, Berlin and Istanbul.

Artistic directors of the project are Cymin Samawatie, Efe Duyan, Ketan Bhatti, and Matthias Göritz. One poem was selected for the performances from each poet and they were composed by Cymin Samawatie and Ketan Bhatti. Both the poems and compositions have their own unique themes, tones and styles. The poems are an important part of the musical composition. My poem, Memet, is composed for this project by Cymin Samawatie and she also signs it in a wonderful way even though she does not know Turkish. Here is the poem in English and the link for the ones who wants to hear the composition of the poem: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ft_4d_nq2K8 



Take these ratta-tats Memet

Take them to the ratta-tatta man

Take this me Memet

Take this me to the meadows

Do I know what to do with me?

To me, I’m always a seabattle Memet

Take this me to the birds

Drop this me to the poor suburbs

Battling’s a backpack anyway Memet

Besides can a wound get old

Just keep me waiting again on a pillow-bed

Even the apple awaits its time

Just … me in a big old urn…

Deeper even deeper Memet

Just watch what a carnival, the human race

Does the ratta-tatta man

Ever ratta-tat the ratta-tats Memet?

Best if you dump me in with the poor Memet

Take this me, throw this me off the minaret

(Translated by Saliha Paker and Mel Kenne)



We had our rehearsals for five days till 10.00 to 18.00. Our motto of these rehearsals were “We are collecting ideas, baby!” since nobody did not know exactly what to do and neither of us had a fixed program until the last day! These were very tiring days but at the end we all feel that it was worth it. We gave three concerts and our performances took place on Thursday, 20th September and Friday, 21st September in Heimathafen Neukölln in Berlin and Friday, 07th December in Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul. The modern adaptations of music and poetry gave big inspiration for the audience as well. Now we are asked to make these concerts in three different cities in Turkey – all of us are now trying to arrange our programs and find a best date for each member! It is not an easy thing to do for such a crowded group.

To be a part of such a big and great orchestra is a wonderful experience for the poets. It was something more than a reading with music. We, the poets, also wrote a Renshi together when we were in Berlin. Renshi, a modern version of traditional Japanese renga and renku, is a form of collaborative poetry pioneered by Makoto Ōoka in the 1980s. Renshi are written by a group of poets collaborating in the writing process in sessions. To write this chain poem is very much like a game and not so easy. One round was 3-5-3-5-3-5 lines so we wrote 6 rounds. Each part should be written by a different poet and should be slightly related to the previous part and cannot directly refer to previous parts. We wrote 6 rounds – have a nice reading!

Divan Berlin – Istanbul: Divan of Sea


Gökçenur Ç.

From Istanbul, my friends, writing you this letter.

My Words: a breeze from the sea,

Nine sparrows comforting the darkness with rain.

You’ll say we saw nine eagles on a ruined Wall,

I’ll understand my letter found you well.


Matthias Göritz

i remember translations of the sea

ships without a clear heading landed

we wrote something at the edge of language


Efe Duyan

Next morning, we found the garden wall full of graffitties

Painted oleander leaves, sprays and the still fresh memories of the night

Were now scattered with the wind

But only after having smeared onto each other

Leaf and paint, night and day, you, me


Monika Rinck

I kept a lookout, when it was all over. Looked for a long time.

The coast was so clear. I beat the drum, to hide myself in noise,

I yelled: Happiness feeds from the memory of happiness agone.


Gonca Özmen

We opened – it is wind. We entered – it is wind.

Without an identity just like a sewing needle

And naked as mush as a vagrant rock

We bent over an old book – lost

Dragged by a dead crab.


Nadja Küchenmeister

On that day we didn’t read any further

The boat glided on the Bosphorus away, like an iron, shimmering on a blue sheet…

“And this sound now?” “Nothing, nothing twice.”


Gonca Özmen published her first poems in 1997. In 1999, she received the Ali Rıza Ertan Poetry Prize. Her first collection Kuytumda (In My Nook, 2000) won the Orhon Murat Arıburnu Poetry Prize and in 2003 she received Istanbul University’s Berna Moran Poetry Prize. Her second collection Belki Sessiz (Maybe Silent) appeared in 2008 and was published in German in 2017, translated by Monika Carbe. A selection of her poems in English is The Sea Within, translated by George Messo, which appeared in 2011. She is a member of the advisory board of Bursa Nilüfer International Poetry Festival and the magazine, Turkish Poetry Today, published annually by Red Hand Books. She is also a member of the Three Seas Writers’ and Translators’ Council (TSWTC) in Rhodes, Greece.


This essay first appeared in The Bridge – The Magazine of Academia Balkanica Europeana in March 2019.