genocide

Cut from the same tongue (PoemTalk #57)

Gregory Djanikian, "Armenian Pastoral, 1915"

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When Gregory Djanikian’s book, So I Will Till the Ground, was published in 2007, it was celebrated at the Kelly Writers House. (Later a Writers House podcast was released to give a sense of the event.) Al Filreis gave an introduction (MP3) as did one of Djanikian’s students, Sam Donsky (MP3). Djanikian read the hilarious “Immigrant Picnic” (MP3), a poem from the part of the book dealing with the life of the poet's family after the genocide left many of his forebears dead and dispersed the rest to places like Alexandria, Egypt, where our poet was born. Most of the book, indeed, deals with the effects many decades later of the Armenian genocide (or “Meds Yeghern,” the great calamity). But the first poems in So I Will Till attempt to represent mass killing. Among them is a poem Djanikian also read that night in 2007: “Armenian Pastoral” (MP3), the poem we discuss in this episode of PoemTalk.

Cut from the same tongue (PoemTalk #57)

Gregory Djanikian, 'Armenian Pastoral, 1915'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

When Gregory Djanikian’s book, So I Will Till the Ground, was published in 2007, it was celebrated at the Kelly Writers House. (Later a Writers House podcast was released to give a sense of the event.) Al Filreis gave an introduction (MP3) as did one of Djanikian’s students, Sam Donsky (MP3). Djanikian read the hilarious “Immigrant Picnic” (MP3), a poem from the part of the book dealing with the life of the poet's family after the genocide left many of his forebears dead and dispersed the rest to places like Alexandria, Egypt, where our poet was born. Most of the book, indeed, deals with the effects many decades later of the Armenian genocide (or “Meds Yeghern,” the great calamity). But the first poems in So I Will Till attempt to represent mass killing. Among them is a poem Djanikian also read that night in 2007: “Armenian Pastoral” (MP3), the poem we discuss in this episode of PoemTalk.<--break-> It is more focused on the linguistic capacities of traumatic memory than any other poem in a book that is nonetheless full of consciousness about the relationship between genocide and naming.

Susan Schultz on genocide and dementia redux

On September 15, 2011, I began my conversation with Susan Schultz by somewhat rudely/unfairly asking her a huge question: "Are you able to associate your interest in genocide [she'd been teaching about the Cambodian genocide] and your interest in dementia and memory loss?"

On genocide and dementia

Left to right: Tom Devaney, Susan Schultz, and Leonard Schwartz after recording an episode of "PoemTalk" on a poem by Linh Dinh, Kelly Writers House, Philadephia, USA.

Over at the Tinfish Editor’s Blog, Susan Schultz takes time today to summarize her extended visit to the Kelly Writers House. Here is a link to the entire reflection. Here, below, is the first section of her piece, which I'm pleased to pass along for its insights into the question of possible relations between the way we think about genocide and the way we think about dementia. Sounds outlandish but it begins to make sense, in my view, when one approaches either as a problem of memory and witness.

[I've just returned from what I fondly called The Dementia Tour.  The Kelly Writers House gigs had been planned for nearly a year; I’d thought going to Philadelphia would make it easier to visit my mother in Virginia.  But as it happened, my reading at the Writers House included a farewell to the long project about my mother, which became, more importantly, a farewell to her.  And so I gave a reading, did a public interview with Al Filreis, and recorded a PoemTalk with Al, Leonard Schwartz, and Tom Devaney on a poem, “Eating Fried Chicken,” by Linh Dinh.  After going to see my Cardinals beat the Phillies (though Al and I only heard the game as it was ending on the car radio, streaming St. Louis announcers into the bowels of Philadelphia), and spending time with a college friend and a couple of UNO pals, I went on the West Virginia University to give a talk on Alzheimer's writing, meet with grad students, and see old graduate school friends.]

That's the inventory.  But what actually happened?

Al Filreis began our conversation by noting that I have written about the Cambodian genocide, and he began to connect that content to the Alzheimer's writing I've done that offers a testimony of witness to my mother's decline.  But we adopted our son from Cambodia! I told Al.

Our friend Hongly Khuy was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge.  He’s come to several of my classes to talk about his experiences.  He traumatized that first class of freshmen, talking about what it's like nearly to starve to death, what it’s like to see a woman butchered to death for asking for more food (his laughter at the situation’s absurdity bothered the students most), how far one had to walk simply to get a few grains of rice.  After a couple more such talks, he had grown much more gentle.  He talked differently.  Al distinguished between "deep memory" and "common memory."  Deep memory occurs in the present tense, always.  Common memory acquires a past tense verb, assumes a distance between the moment of trauma and the moment of story-telling.  It's easier on the teller and his audience, but less “true” to the experience.

Christian Boltanski

Art: clothing in piles

Christian Boltanski's artwork/installation, "No Man's Land": a huge crane and a 25-foot-high mound of salvaged clothing rising from the floor of the Park Avenue Armory’s big drill hall. Every few minutes the crane’s giant claw will pluck a random assortment of shirts, pants and dresses from the mound and then release them to flap back down randomly. Visitors can watch the action — set to a ceaseless, reverberating soundtrack of thousands of human heartbeats — from ground level, standing amid dozens of 15-by-23-foot plots of discarded jackets that extend in all directions from the mound and that may - should - evoke refugee or death camps.  "No Man's Land" was described in the New York Times: here.

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