Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A book baptism

Last Friday, we were invited to the launch of a poetry book written by our good friend Shahé Kazarian. As his last name already indicates, he’s Armenian. Most family names ending on ‘ian’ are likely to be Armenian. I wish more countries/cultures would have a similar system; it would really help out in identifying one’s roots. Anyway...:-)

Although the poems are written in English, the book launch was clearly inspired by Armenian traditions. The book is sponsored by Cadmus, an organization that dedicates itself to the Armenian Genocide and the proceeds of the book will be used for raising awareness of this tragedy. But don’t buy the book only for this reason, the poems itself are definitely worthwhile also.

The presentation of the book was quite interesting as it was actually baptized by a priest. Apparently, an old Armenian tradition prescribes that a new book be soaked in wine before it is released to the public. A cynic might say that this is a good way of thought control by the church, but nowadays, it has more a folkloric value.

The book is called ‘Reflections of My I’ and is a collection of Shahé’s poems throughout the years. Some were written in Canada, where Shahé has lived for many years, others were written in Lebanon. Too bad the book does not indicate year and location of each poem, which leaves you guessing, but maybe that’s for the best: why would the value of a poem change if you’d know when and where it was written?

When you read his poems, what’s perhaps most striking is the everlasting battle for truth, honesty and justice, e.g.:

My I has rebelled
Against the old
The collective,
Succumbed to the new
The individual.
(from My I Has Rebelled)


The esprit of my I
Is a rebellious youth
A raging bull
Mourning the crushed mirror,
Pained in nothingness,
Meaningless, the reality of death
(from: The Spirit of My I)

Other poems are equally though-provoking, just like good poems should be. Their daringness leaves you mystified at times and as such they provide an excellent starting point for further reflection of your own ‘I’, such as:

god created man for god
woman for man

god created woman for god
man for woman

god created androgyny for god
person for androgyny
(from Yesterday)

This poem echoes the famous Beatles line “I am he, as you are he, as you are me and we are all together” (hence the poem is named after their greatest hit?) and it makes you think about maintaining your individuality while being part of a future in which you are destined to equal god. This poem, if I understand it correctly, could easily be seen as blasphemous and as such proves the point that the baptism ritual has lost its censorship aspect.

The most daring poem can be found on page 12:
On this cool night
I have embraced
my yesterday
in the dawn of tomorrow.

I now know
who I am.
(from: On This Cool Night)

This should have been the last poem in the book: Mission accomplished!

Knowing who you are is something only very few of us would ever achieve, so it makes you wonder why the poet is making such a bold statement. Is he serious, can you really know yourself? Can you truly embrace your yesterday?

If you try to recall yourself only a few years back, you’ll find out that you have lost touch with yourself. Can you still remember your emotions, your ambitions, your dreams you had 5, 10, 15 years ago? What were your plans and expectations when you finished high school? What did you think when you got your first job?

Embracing yesterday is a daring task. Anyone who has ever kept a diary will know this all too well. In most cases, your very own diary is written by a stranger, someone you have lost touch with as time passed by.

And this is exactly the power of the poem: by putting it bluntly like this, Shahé forces you to think about yourself, your own past and about how well you know yourself.

The Hungarian writer György Konrad once wrote that a good book makes you want to put it down after every line so you can stare out of your window and ponder what you just read. I am in no way a literary critic, but reading Shahé’s poems likewise requires and deserves a lot of time.