Posted by: John Looker | 4 February, 2011

Most of us reach the city today by plane …

A second prose-poem in this series of poems and links stimulated by Istanbul (slightly revised, following a comment from Jim at ):

Most of us reach the city today by plane …

… you know the scene. In Business Class an accountant sits with newspaper folded at ‘markets’, reading a thriller, her shoes kicked off on a carpet that’s copious enough for Scheherezade and the Sultan to sit at ease together.

In Economy the films have finished; magazines carpet the floor. A young man, with lips moving, is bent over his Koran, while beside him an elderly couple are studying a guidebook together. They log off now and raise their eyes to watch the city coming into focus.

Looking out the window the young man speaks and, in apprentice English, gives them an account of himself: migrant, market worker, flying home with traveller’s tales.

“Welcome to my country” he says.

© John Stevens 2011


  1. You capture the bustle well and for some bizarre reason the thought I was left with was, I hope he sets off again for more travelling. I wonder why that was? I like your travelling series. Maybe I should challenge you to one a day for fourteen days? 🙂


  2. You’re very encouraging Kiersty – and I’m enjoying your one-a-day for 14 days adventure – but I think I’d come trailing in like an old nag behind a racehorse!


  3. Your conversational tone make these a delight to read.

    I can imagine sitting in the snug of an old fashioned pub listening to your words as I warm myself by the fire



    • Thanks a lot David! You might get tired of my voice pretty quickly and prefer a game of darts instead.


  4. Okay, some thoughts, questions…
    I’d be interested to know why you’re going the prose poem route here. Nothing wrong with this, but why? And what—exactly—is a prose poem as you see it, anyway? I’m thinking of writing a prose poem about prose poems one of these days…
    In the title ‘the city’ is left unspecified. We know Istanbul from information outside the poem. The effect is mythical, yes? Do you know the beginning of Samuel Delany’s Dhalgrin?
    to wound the autumnal city
    …it’s like that. Yet we are on a very un-mythical airplane. You know the scene. Or at least the myth is one of what they used to call weltschmerz in the old days. I don’t travel much, but it is very wearying. And then Scheherazade shows up! I wonder is she going to tell us prose or poetry. Does she know the scene? And that carpet. Is it a magic carpet? It is flying right now. Interesting, that no one is looking out the window. I was on a plane once circling New York City just at sunset. On the in house music they were playing some badly recorded Prokofiev. I won’t tell you I didn’t want the plane to land already, but I still remember watching the clouds as the sun set…and have no idea where I was coming home from.
    One suggestion: try putting the ‘Welcome to my county, he tells them’ at the very end. It’d be the perfect close.
    …as will I.


    • Thanks Jim. The challenge sharpens my wits.
      Why a prose-poem? Well, I’m trying to write 5 poems in familiar stanzas and metres, all taking the history of Constantinople/ Byzantium/ Istanbul as a jumping off point. Then, as a contrast, I’ll surround them with vignettes of modern life. I first thought these links would be in free verse but they were so close to prose I decided to put them in paragraphs.
      I’ve written 3 of the main poems (the 3rd is almost ready to go) and 3 of the prose links (ditto).
      Magic carpet? That was in my mind too, but equally the contrast of quotidian life in a modern city.
      Finally, although this anecdote is primarily about a group of travellers arriving somewhere, it also became a piece about story-telling and how we use stories to explain the world to ourselves: there are 10 different ways of telling a story in it and (I hope) some unexpected twists.
      I’ll think further about the ending.
      Thanks for your interest (and you should write that poem about prose-poems!)


    • Jim: I’ve taken up your suggestion of re-ordering the ending. John


  5. A very evocative piece, John; I haven’t done much flying, but enough to know exactly where I was and how it felt as I read it. I rather like the prose-poem approach; and I’d happily join you and belfastdavid in the pub to hear more!


    • Thanks Nick. I’ll get the drinks in then!


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