As poet Floyd Skloot observed of nationally recognized poet Richard Tillinghast and his poems in The Stonecutter's Hand, "The urgency — the impulse to go — rises from a need to strip the self down to its essence, to relocate intimacy and a sense of community by immersing himself in remoteness."
As the late poet Louis Simpson also observed, "Tillinghast's poems range confidently among different cultures. He has a sense of history as a living force."
And as Tillinghast himself once wrote, "Being on non-native ground, breathing different air, seeing unfamiliar landscapes and buildings, all this gets poems going. Having grown up feeling inwardly alienated from most of the people around me, I came to feel most at home when away from home. I first saw Istanbul in 1964."
But it was not the last time Tillinghast saw Istanbul. He's visited several times since, because, as Tillinghast has written, "The exotic atmosphere of the city struck some chord."
Some might say a mythic chord — what with Istanbul's very long history, its mix of peoples and cultures, its artistic achievements, down to its today world-famous authors, down to its today political unrest. But the mythic has always appealed to Tillinghast. He's admitted as much of his homeland, the South, and that includes Memphis, the city where he was born and grew up.
These days, Tillinghast divides his time between Sewanee, Tennessee, and Hawaii, but Memphis is where he'll return, when he reads from and signs copies of his latest book, An Armchair Traveller's History of Istanbul (Haus Publishing), at Burke's on Thursday. This travel guide isn't all history, though, unless you count the author's history with Istanbul as well. In among the city's glorious — and often savage — past, there's Tillinghast's personal past too: in among Istanbul's changing neighborhoods, observing local customs, and marveling at the art and architecture and literature of a city at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. As the travel series Tillinghast once edited as a graduate student at Harvard put it: Let's go.
Richard Tillinghast reading from and signing An Armchair Traveller's History of Istanbul at Burke's Book Store, Thursday, July 18th, 5-6:30 p.m.