BY KYLE KHANDIKIAN
In her new book, Rumor, poet Silva Merjanian unpacks and explores the many layers of the human experience with poetry that one reviewer describes as “shocking, tender and to the point.” Born and raised in Lebanon, Merjanian left for Geneva in the wake of the Lebanese Civil War. Currently living in California, Merjanian’s poetry has been featured widely in anthologies and international poetry journals, and has been read by Irish actress and narrator Eabha Rose. Rumor is her second volume of poetry after Uncoil a Night, released in 2013. All the proceeds from both books are being donated to the Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF). Rumor has already raised over $4000 for SARF, and the amount continues to grow.
Merjanian’s poetry reflects what she has taken with her from each city she has lived in. Her nostalgia for her roots, her Armenian heritage, and her sense of humanity are just some of the themes present in her poems. Merjanian discussed Rumor and her recent work with Asbarez.
KYLE KHANDIKIAN: Your work seems to touch on a number of themes—life in Lebanon, the civil war there, your experiences as a woman. Why are these subjects important to you or why do you think that it is important to tell these stories and talk about them?
SILVA MERJANIAN: The poems in Rumor question relationships. They lift layers of common notions to explore and find a truth from different perspectives, to find a sense of self in relation to every aspect of life. It is not about one gender or about one race, but extends the full length of humanity, leaving behind the ego and learned and self-imposed limitations, to find honesty in reality that is shielded so often. It is not a matter of relating to these poems, but a matter of finding a new perspective, a truth while looking from another point in the distance. The metaphor and ambiguity in some of the poems enable the reader to think of this collection as a mirror image of life, because life itself is not defined and explained in black and white. Some poems just give a hint of understanding that relationships are never two-dimensional, and they are multilayered.
For example it explores doubt in faith and subsequent isolation in “Converge”. It reveals relationships with society impersonated in cities such in “Saints in My Rain” (Geneva), “Beirut”, “Nostalgia” (Paris), and the poems take the lead and shift the focus on men interchangeable with a city. In “We the Women”, women are shown in a different image than that portrayed in the feminist movement. Freeing them from that artificial camaraderie ropes, and seeing them as brutal rivals, because no man can hurt a woman the way another woman can especially in the corporate world, also to a great extent in the world of art, we do it with finesse, and with a smile on our face, rivalry gnawing at our morality. Rumor tackles marital relationships in “Till Death Do Us Part”, when couples lose their individual identity and evolve in a weaker entity as one unit, thus questioning the artificial happy exterior image—a portrait of human nature. In “Perspective”, it challenges authority figures’ significance as time changes people.
K.K.: Any themes that are specific to Armenians or Armenian women?
S.M.: Armenian heritage surfaces in “Motherland” and “Exile”, again emphasis being on the relationship of this heritage to the present, that decides and dictates a sense of self and with the Armenian Genocide, the poems carry the past, the inherited pain without losing strength or being bound by it, but exposing the injustice as in “Where the Truth is Strewn”.
Lebanon and war are an integral part of this volume because I lived 8 years of the civil war and wanted to show how it changes a person. It’s a ‘love and hate’ relationship, because there is the nostalgia of home, but one can not separate from it the violence and terror, it is not possible to sever that relationship with a city completely, it has seeped into the subconscious. There are no lessons here; just painting a form of truth that still has a pulse in the past, and a connection to the future. Never is this more loud than in “Rooftop”, where two sides of a coin—desperation and hope—a hunger to live fully, project from the past into the future. It is merely a fact, a painting of a relationship.
K.K.: Are there other subjects or themes that readers can look forward to in Rumor?
S.M.: Yes, Rumor is full of love poems but not in the traditional sense. There are poems on hope and change, on deception, on disappointments, on personal growth; after all we have a relationship with our selves, our fears, our adaptations. There are love stories, tragedies, survival, longing—there is something for every taste.
K.K.: When did you begin writing poetry, and why do you tell these stories through poetry as opposed to prose?
S.M.: I started writing in 2010 and it took me some time to find my footing. In 2013 my first collection, Uncoil a Night, came out, followed by Rumor in 2015. I had no clue I loved writing until I read a translation of Neruda’s work, and of course with the Internet nowadays a whole world opened up for me.
I do write prose, but I prefer poetry because it deals with a truth that is felt more than seen for me, and sight is very limited with us humans. It creates a truth that makes sense to me if I look at things from a point of view that is not flat on a page, but extends beyond an imagination. So I feel I have more range to play, to be honest to explore beyond comfort levels.
K.K.: You spoke at a commemoration event at Ohio State University for the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. What was that like?
S.M.: I was invited by Dr. Hagop Mekhjian and the Armenian Student Association at Ohio State University as guest of honor at the Celebration of Survival event on April 24, 2015. It was a very well organized and successful event that had a cultural and entertainment section. The thought of speaking to about 250 people on our poetry and the Genocide was one of the most exciting things I’ve done. I felt honored to be trusted with this task, and I feel the message was a very important one.
K.K.: You’ve raised over $4000 with Rumor, and all the proceeds from your books are being donated to humanitarian causes. Why did you decided to donate all the proceeds from your book, and why to the Syrian Armenian Relief Fund specifically?
S.M.: I decided to donate all proceeds from both my books Uncoil a Night and Rumor to charity, because for me my art is not about money. I write because I have to, it is not what I do but what I am. And it gives me so much satisfaction to know my words are all around the world and through my art a family will have food on the table. This feeling is beyond anything money can buy for me. I chose Syrian Armenian Relief Fund because I wanted to reach out to people suffering in that region; my parents were refugees in Ainjar in Lebanon, so there is that emotional connection. There is my experience in Lebanon during the war, therefore my deep understanding of the necessity to help. There is my love for Armenians and the urge to do something, anything to reach out. I have never been to Syria; it is not about a location but about a people.
K.K.: What is your hope for SARF and for the Syrian-Armenian community?
S.M.: My hope for SARF is for them to find the means, to be creative in raising funds to reach out to the refugees there, because to leave our people isolated in a war region is not an option. I am grateful for all their hard work. I hope they will raise the funds not only to get the basic necessities but also to help the young generation stay in school because educating this generation is crucial. As for the Syrian-Armenian community, my hope is what I hope for everyone: for the day to come when they will have a roof over their heads and not to have to worry about survival, but enjoy life as well.
K.K.: Do you have any plans or ideas for future projects?
S.M.: Future projects at the moment involve speeches, readings, and events to promote Rumor. My third book won’t be till 2017.
Rumor is available now on Silva Merjanian’s official website, www.silvamerjanian.com.