Keith Garebian’s most personal book to date, Children of Ararat, is the poignant recollection of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. It is part of the Dektet 2010.
Children of Ararat is made up of 56 poems broken into four parts, and is dedicated to Garebian’s father, a survivor of the Armenian genocide. Garebian says, “I figured I owed my father homage because we never had a good relationship for most of his life. We came to a sort of reconciliation towards the end of his life, but I figured I owed him homage. I also wanted to bury the dead because it’s a subject that’s been denied by Turkey systematically for 95 years.” The Armenian genocide was the massacre of over 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, and is considered to be one of the first modern genocides.
In 2013, Garebian received the prestigious William Saroyan Medal, named in honour of the great Armenian American dramatist and author. Created by the Ministry of Diaspora in Armenia, the award is granted for contributions to the dissemination of Armenian culture in the Diaspora, prominent achievements in the sphere, and contributions to the relations within Diaspora Armenian communities.
There are approximately 10 million Armenians worldwide, and Garebian is one of a minority of diaspora writers who write only in English. He attributes the award chiefly to his two books, Pain: Journeys Around My Parents (a memoir published in 2000 and long out of print), and Children of Ararat (a collection of poetry about his Armenian father and the Armenian genocide of 1915).
His father was a young survivor of the atrocity, and Garebian packs his story with the pure, corporeal horror that only a child can experience….Garebian communicates his rage better through physical objects (tendons, blood, bodies, mould) than abstractions (hope, will, shame, regret), but there’s so much precise detail that the tangible always wins out…His greatest political weapon, then, is his steadfast sense of accounting…. Children of Ararat locates both its history and its poetry, within the cruel specificities of those events.
If you want to experience just how deeply and directly historical pain can suffuse, read these impassioned and elegiac, yet potently living pieces. Keith Garebian writes with solicitousness, rage, and pure confidence in his resources…The poems in Children of Ararat are creations of a man with an ‘optic heart’ — a man who belongs to the people, to his father’s people, as well as to a wider span of citizenry intent on the pursuit of transparency, justice, and human renewal.
This is a momentous collection rendered by a poet in his prime. Children of Ararat takes the reader on a harrowing journey beginning with the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and continuing on to the denial that lingers to this day. While the horror is made clear, there is something oddly joyful in the mourning, in the poet’s ability to give voice to the long-dead. Without hyperbole, the poet evokes the gruesome events and articulates how, as the inheritor of his father’s experiences, he finds himself ‘trapped in an abyss’ created nearly a century ago. As with his previous collection, Blue: The Derek Jarman Poems, Garebian once again creates a living elegy that at times reaches almost beyond words.
It’s a passionate and angry collection of poems focusing on the massacre of ethnic Armenians in Turkey in June, 1915. …The book, though, is more than a catalogue of atrocities….the book opens with a selection of poems that reflect on his father’s story, ‘the whole mad history of it.’ Other poems explore the effects of the genocide on the survivors and on the descendants of victims. Garebian also comments on how the genocide has affected artists of Armenian descent and their works: the paintings of Arshile Gorky, the plays of William Saroyan, and the films of Atom Egoyan…The writing is evocative and full of powerful images. Sometimes, as Garebian describes, the whole landscape answered in pain: ‘Between the staked olive trees, the partridge/caught their spurs in wires/wrenching the skies with cries.’
If we put our ears to the ground, we will hear “death by wholesale subtraction,” we will hear the story of shoes lost and the sounds of shoes boiling. We will hear the powerful passionate voice of Keith Garebian who will not be silenced and whose tongue “licks the caves where the dead lie in hibernation.”
In Children of Ararat, Keith Garebian, relentlessly and with an optic heart, pursues the suffering of the victims, exposes historical hypocrisies, and pleads with the world to acknowledge the truth about that dark chapter in the lives of his people. The Armenian genocide has certainly stung Garebian into poetry. These poems are a splendid memorial which will continue to haunt the reader long after he has put them aside.
Rage, for it to work on the page, requires a control so stern it seems like ease of phrase; historical pain made personal cannot be made convincing without such control and craft as is found in these poems by Keith Garebian.
If you want to feel how deeply a genocidal history can impact the imagination, read these brave, passionate, relentless and incandescent poems by Keith Garebian.
Children of Ararat addresses the legacy of the Armenian genocide. A son shaped by his father’s experience serves as witness to the aftershocks of brutality. This poet is unafraid to face the horror that is too often the result of politics and too much the truth of history.
About the Author
Keith Garebian is a widely published, award-winning freelance literary and theatre critic, biographer, and poet. Among his many awards are the Canadian Authors Association (Niagara Branch) Poetry Award (2009), the Mississauga Arts Award (2000 and 2008), a Dan Sullivan Memorial Poetry Award (2006), and the Lakeshore Arts & Scarborough Arts Council Award for Poetry (2003). This is his fourth book of poetry.