Travelling with a poet - a reading tour with Nevfel Cumart
When he starts reading his poems in different languages, the students realise increasingly that this is not just another boring German class. The writer is reading from two volumes of poetry that were translated into English, but is also presenting poems that he translated into Turkish.
Nevfel encourages students to ask questions, either in German or in English, because what really matters is active debate and conversation. Initially a bit shy, eventually more and more students begin to ask him about his life and his poems: "Why are you a writer?", "What language does your daughter speak?" Or "In what language do you write your poems?". With each question the students become increasingly interested, and they gradually learn more about Nevfel's private life. For example, that he has been writing for 31 years and in that time has created more than 1600 poems. Originally Nevfel had never intended to become a poet. He had pursued a career in academia. But he soon realised that his life at the university was not enough for him, he needed poetry to understand about himself, God, and life. "I can’t live without poems, so I have to write them." His daughter appears again and again in his poems. She is not only shaped by Turkish and Germany culture, but as the daughter of a Greek mother, she also speaks a little Greek. But like Nevfel she feels mostly German.
The theme of immigrant integration is particularly important to Nevfel and he is not afraid to answer personal questions on this subject too. In some cases very emotional stories about his own childhood and youth, and the conflicts that arose because of clashes between the different cultural ideas of Nevfel and his parents who emigrated in 1960 as migrant workers to Germany. He constantly interrupts these stories and flips through his books to connect the experiences he has described with one of his poems, because "sometimes you can tell stories through poems." Through ‘Meine erste Liebe’ the students learn, for example, about Nevfel's first girlfriend, a German, and the problems their intercultural relationship brought. After six difficult years, their relationship ended.
Nevfel sees education as the only way to aid integration and as a German with Turkish roots he recognises that he has a special responsibility to pass this on to other immigrants. With this in mind he began a literacy programme, increasing the chances of Turkish immigrants in Germany to enjoy of a better future. How difficult this integration actually is, could be seen through the example of his own parents. Nevfel's mother pulled out of the literacy project and also his father, who could already read and write, returned temporarily back to his homeland - which the poet dealt with in ‘Über die Heimat II’. Nevfel also traveled many times to Turkey to visit his relatives. When asked whether he still saw himself as Turkish, Nevfel responded that although this is partly the case, he could not determine exactly what percentage Turkish and what percentage German he felt himself to be. While he likes many elements of Turkish culture, it doesn’t take long for Nevfel to name many things in Germany he appreciates, which again underlines his position between two cultures.
"Between two worlds in the midst of infinite loneliness I want to be a bridge" - with these words ‘Zwei Welten’ begins - one of the works that best describes Nevfel's situation. He takes his role as a representative of German immigrants seriously and as a "traveling poet" he not only visits many schools in Germany, but also in other European countries, trying to fulfill his wish to become a bridge between the cultures.
Not only are migrants and their children able to indentify with him, but he also raises awareness of the special difficulties of a life lived between two cultures. Precisely this ability enabled him to captivate such a variety of Irish students during his reading tour through eight Irish schools with his poems and stories.
Several students had a similar background and had quite specific questions for Nevfel. But even those who were unfamiliar with the themes listened attentively and used this encounter with the writer to find out a little more about Germany. Because of the variations in feedback, it made each reading unique, which is why the visit was worthwhile not only for the students but also for the poet.
Aileen Mhic Chionna, ColáisteEoin and pupils kindly gave permission to the Goethe-Institut to feature all photos on their website pertaining to Partner Schulen activities.