collaboration IALA X h-pem | Seen by Armenians by Alessandra Agopian Alessandra Agopian is 16-year-old a junior at Horace Mann School in New York. She is a proud Armenian with a passion for poetry and creative writing, following in the footsteps of her great grandfather, famous poet and writer Sisag Varjabedian. Alessandra's submission is the honorable mention of the 2023 Young Armenian Poets Award. Continue to read her submission.
collaboration IALA X h-pem | Mother my shadow by Isabel Nargizian Isabel Nargizian is a 17-year-old proud Armenian born and raised in LA. Currently a freshman at UCLA, Isabel is studying psychobiology and pursuing her passion of composing music on the side. Classically trained in piano, she began branching out in the last two years, forming her musical identity as a singer/songwriter. While she always perceived herself a musician before a writer, her aptitude to express herself through lyrics inspires her to also write poems. To Isabel, poems are lyrics with a unique melody, one each reader silently creates in their head based on the tempo and rhythm words are interpreted. Isabel's fervor to continually support the Armenian community enables her to vocalize people’s needs and opinions in her work. Isabel Nargizian is one of the winners of the 2023 Young Armenian Poets Awards. Continue scrolling to read her winning submission.
collaboration IALA X h-pem | The Children of Armenia by Sofia Viana Ogulluk Sofia Ogulluk is a 14-year-old freshman at Manhasset High School on Long Island, New York. She is a passionate writer, who loves to write in all kinds of genres and styles. Some of her favorite styles of writing are poems, novels, and songs. In addition to writing, she loves to participate in Armenian Dance, Broadcast Journalism, Girl Scouts, and Theatre. In her free time, she likes to learn languages, hike, travel, and spend time with friends. A fun fact about her is that she also has attended AGBU Camp Nubar for the past four summers. Sofia Ogulluk is one of the winners of the 2023 Young Armenian Poets Awards (YAPA). You can read her winning submission below.
collaboration IALA X h-pem | Anahit's Legacy by Vladimir Mkrtchian Vladimir Mkrtchian is a sixteen-year-old student attending Wellington C. Mepham High School on Long Island. Mkrtchian writes in English, Armenian, and French and is pursuing a Seal of Biliteracy in the French language. He won several regional and district-wide writing contests, earning an honorable mention at the Walt Whitman Birthplace 2023 Student Poetry Contest, and publication of his works in his school’s literary magazine, Fragments. Currently, he is an assistant teacher at the Holy Martyrs Armenian Language School in Queens, New York—teaching the Armenian language to Nursery students while also writing monthly issues on behalf of the school in the church’s newsletter, Narrec. He continues to write today, sharing his Armenian-influenced works with his teachers, friends, and the district in hopes of spreading awareness and bridging the gap between American and Armenian communities. Vladimir Mkrtchian's poem "Anahit's Legacy' is one of the winners of the 2023 Young Armenian Poets Awards. Read Vladimir's haunting poem below.
collaboration IALA X h-pem | 2023 Young Armenian Poets Awards: On Visibility In a time of turbulence and uncertainty, the Young Armenian Poets Awards (YAPA) stands as a beacon of hope and expression. Founded and directed by Alan Semerdjian, YAPA of the International Armenian Literary Alliance (IALA) collaborates with h-pem, which, in turn, seeks to provide an authentic audience for the annual awards. As our nation grapples with turmoil, YAPA invites young talents to explore profound existential questions. How can poetry become a bridge connecting Armenia and its vast diaspora? What dialogues are essential within the Armenian community and with the world? These questions are met with insightful responses, as young awardees delve deep into their souls, weaving symbolism, fantasy, and elegy into their work. In 2023, the theme of "Visibility" resonates deeply as the Armenian people face challenging times, particularly in Artsakh. The lack of media coverage and international support is disheartening, leading many to feel as though they are disappearing before their own eyes. However, YAPA continues to shine a spotlight on these issues through the power of poetry. This year's winning and honorable mention poems offer poignant reflections on identity, remembrance, and resistance. Gregory Djanikian, Armine Iknadossian, Alan Semerdjian, and Raffi Wartanian, distinguished individuals in the literary world, provide insightful commentary on the winning works. These poems encapsulate the essence of the Armenian spirit, addressing the struggles and resilience of a people whose stories deserve to be told. YAPA's mission to illuminate the dark corners of our universe through poetry remains steadfast, and it is through the voices of these young poets that we find a glimmer of light and hope during these somber times. Read on to understand more of YAPA's 2023 edition through Alan Semerdjian's lenses.
feature Algorithms for loss: By Alan Semerdjian Something extraordinary happened on the day award-winning writer, musician, and educator Alan Semerdjian released a collaboration of poems and sound with guitarist/composer Aram Bajakian—Kim Kardashian tweeted about his project The Serpent and the Crane! While a lot has happened in the world since then, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the 44-day Artsakh war, Semerdjian went on to write an essay, a meditation about that actual day, April 24th 2020. He generously contributed his compelling story to h-pem because he believes it “should live in the world.” Experimental in form and delivery, the essay is an attempt to tackle broader issues, such as the nature of virality, how to process and share difficult and hard to digest art, the question of Armenian identity, genocide denial—all still relevant and resonant. Check out Semerdjian’s wonderfully intuitive, extremely timely and profound story as it unravels in real time below…
collaboration IALA x h-pem | The Once-Man What Taleen Sahakian does with imagery is astounding. In her poem, "The Once-Man," the reader is introduced to a mysterious creature with a cryptic message. What at first seems like a fantasy tale about an imaginary beast turns into a parable about an act of violence so deplorable, it burns "all the love in the world to the ground." The Once-Man is a symbol of loss in its most profound form, in the form of mass annihilation of a group of people. Sahakian alludes to our history, highlights the terrors our ancestors experienced but also reminds us of the power of storytelling. This poem comes from an imaginative mind, a curious soul and a lover of symbolism. Ms. Sahakian succeeds in creating an unforgettable character in The Once-Man. Commentary provided by YAPA contest judge Armine Iknadossian
collaboration 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.
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
inPicture On this day - Jun. 17, 1971: Armenia's favorite poet, the voice of a nation, Paruyr Sevak died Fifty years ago today, Paruyr Sevak, one of the greatest Armenian poets of the twentieth century, died in a mysterious car crash. News of his death sent shock waves across the nation, from his village home to the far corners of the Armenian Diaspora.
collaboration IALA x h-pem | I see you in the jacarandas The power and lift of this moving poem built off of a meditation on a Jacaranda Tree, as noted in its title, seem to come from the writer’s ability to risk sentimentality without being sentimental while simultaneously pushing abstraction without alienating the reader. We’re told the examination of the lost loved one in the poem, as brought on by the proximity of the tree, transports the speaker into “the closet of a dream” where “I am a bird / In another life / By your side.” Like William Carlos Williams’ lengthier “Asphodel” and H.D. 's more economical “Pear Tree,” the work is deftly sewn together both imagistically and musically and spins the initial conceit to welcome in a multitude of concerns. It has much to say about the nature of longing and loss, two notions that feel, acutely, Armenian and also indicative of the human condition. This is a terrifically-crafted achievement of the imagination. Commentary provided by YAPA judging director Alan Semerdjian.
collaboration IALA x h-pem | Go light on the sweetness “Go Light on the Sweetness” shines in its subtlety. Rendered with vivid imagery, the flower — “Encompassing millions of / Beginnings, endings, / And middles” — becomes a vibrant symbol of memory, of the struggle between history and amnesia, of the compelling juxtaposition between the absence of remembering and the presence of not forgetting. Characteristic of the Armenian experience, that juxtaposition is universally human. By asking, “Does the honey cause a paucity of flavor?” the writer summons a flower’s sweet nectar to toggle between presence and absence; in this case, the presence of honey subtracts flavor. What does it mean, then, when expectations collapse, when the natural order evaporates like the steam rising from hot water? To that tension, the writer responds, “My moral compass spins as / I pour in the sweetness,” evoking a disorientation all too familiar throughout the past year-and-a-half of death, destruction, and deception. All that remains is the in-between. We’re caught in a nebulous space, an origin point between polarities that force us to find footing on the continuum of an uncertain world. And maybe that’s where we must take root — acculturating “in both worlds.” It is this noteworthy sense of subtlety and soul that makes “Go Light on the Sweetness” a disquieting and imaginative interrogation of the in-between. Commentary provided by YAPA contest judge Raffi Wartanian
collaboration IALA x h-pem | A love affair with poetry! H-Pem is thrilled for the opportunity to partner with the newly founded International Armenian Literary Alliance (IALA) and host their inaugural Young Armenian Poets Awards. Poetry has the power to unlock young people’s imaginations, inspire change, and challenge us with diverse reflections, especially in these trying times. We’re all for creative ingenuity and are set to celebrate the winning entries. If you’re an aspiring poet between the ages of 14-18, join IALA’s contest. It's your chance to get your voice heard and initiate a meaningful conversation with the beauty of words. Tap into your inner poet with fresh and exclusive insights from IALA Board leaders in the article below!