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IALA x h-pem | my letter to the missed armenian

April 04, 2022 - October 02, 2022

Creative writing

By Juliette Hagobian

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IALA x h-pem | my letter to the missed armenian

“my letter to the missed armenian” is a moving elegy for a fallen Armenian soldier, maybe during the Artsakh conflict, whose slow dissolution moves the speaker toward lamentation. It is a gravepoem, a poem that describes how death unloosens the body bit by bit into disappearance. Impressively, the poem’s structure magnifies our perception of an impending absence. The large blank spaces that surround the poem and migrate into it, the gaps already floating inside some of the lines, the lack of punctuation and strict margins, all add to our sense of an emptiness taking hold. It’s as if the poem itself were dissipating, though not before startling us with its imagery and phrasing and heightening the possibilities of language. How unusual it is to describe a bloody death as “red ink” written on the grass; no one, perhaps, has described war as a “taunt ill”; and in one of the best passages of the poem, the speaker’s willingness to sacralize the soldier’s death takes an incantatory tone: “i’ll / sing your fingerprints / i’ll / publish a common book / and control the blasts of / blanched clouds.” It is a poem that locates the departures and absences that Armenians have historically endured squarely in the death of one Armenian soldier, the all residing in the one, the past merging into the present. Finally, this empathic communion between the then and the now which the speaker feels on the skin gives the poem a final hopeful tone: that the body returning to the earth seeds it for a second renewal, and all that has been left unsaid might appear again like a new flowering of words on the tongue.

Commentary provided by YAPA contest judge Gregory Djanikian.

           read these words,     follow 

                     my words, my tongue 

i’m sorry, so, so sorry 
                  that my chants and money are of 

                                                                                                                     no aid 
                  that my laughing and heart are of 

                                                                                                                     no joy 

 

these cheap dreams, give the grass a red ink 

                                 i see a stranger wounding dour ankles 

                     extending that pain through my veins to reach yours 

unplucked stems are your legs,                            stuck in            the mud 
                            wasted, exhausted mud 
give me your hands and 
                                                     i’ll 
                  sing your fingerprints 
                                                     i’ll 
                  publish a common book 
and control                                   the blasts of 

blanched clouds 

                  can’t i fight this war? 

                                                                                    can’t i defeat the taunt ill? 

work until dawn, choke out the                           green smoke 

             stain your uniform with
     spotted blood 
                         a collapse of knives and servants 

how unfortunate, a wife’s son given                  away 

             to the tide of                  mountained bodies 
becoming another stubborn stranger 
                                                                           to the depths of another black hole 

scattered like seeds, only your fingers 

                                                     touch roots 

and i hear your message from miles                  away 

 

             what can i do?

Juliette Hagobian Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High SchoolGranada Hills, CA17 years old Juliette Hagobian 
Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School
Granada Hills, CA
17 years old 

 

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IALA x h-pem |  In Memory of the Country We Once Recalled
Collaboration IALA x h-pem | In Memory of the Country We Once Recalled

What happens to our connection with a home after we have left? This question haunts the elegiac explorations of “In Memory of the Country We Once Recalled.” Bookended by a dialogic line of longing—“You haven’t returned home in years”—the poem explores the meaning of a home laced with loss and love. The idea of home is, in this case, Armenia, yet the poet’s specific rendering of that home points to universal tensions relatable to anyone who has ventured toward unknowns. Whether in a new town, state, or country, there looms the inescapable shadows of the past—the people, the places, the possibilities—that facilitated leaving and establishing a new home where traces of the old echo. If home is the lingering shadow, then we’re inspired to ask: What does home even mean? Perhaps it’s a history to preserve, or a prison of paralyzing nostalgia, or something between those polarities. In the Armenian experience of countless migratory waves, definitions of home face assimilation pressures in the new setting. “And somehow, in our youthful innocence,” the poet observes, “we / replaced culture with rapture / Baklava and lahmajoun morphing all too quickly / into cupcakes and Domino’s Pizza.” Cuisine is not the only cultural idiom distorted by the dynamics of migration. Annual visits to Armenia render the homeland a mere “tourist destination,” where the mayrenik is “Straining under the weight of a new, more developed, homeland.” As a painter layers color, here the poet layers identity with “homeland” as a term both firm yet fluid, as something that can be layered, mixed, and morphed by forces beyond one’s control. Through cuisine and tourism, the poem builds to a striking moment where the desire and need to assimilate cannot escape the internalizing of cultural erasure. Writes the poet: “We ask / mama and papa to ‘please speak in English / when my friends are here’ So that our cheeks don’t blush / pomegranate red in humiliation.” This line shows the poet’s powerful capacity to confront efforts to conform with a dominant culture that simultaneously reveal an inner “pomegranate red” essence that no amount of assimilation can erase. We do not know why the person with whom the poet converses, presumably the poet’s mother, left Armenia, or what economic hardships, political pressures, or regional conflicts she sought to escape. Her disconnect—physicalized with “lips recoiling, disgusted,”—point to a justifiable need to let go of what was in order to embrace what is and what can be. And yet for the youth, like the poet, caught in such calculations, these lines of separation are hazy. In this obscure space, the poet mines the riches of these tensions, using the pen to stake a compelling claim: “my home is no longer hers.” 

Commentary provided by YAPA contest judge Raffi Joe Wartanian

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