Senior George Krikorian has stories, the kind, he says, that don’t lose their impact with retelling from one generation to the next. At the urging of his adviser, Major Jackson, Richard Dennis Green and Gold Professor of English and recipient of a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, Krikorian has been recording and transcribing hours of oral history from his grandmother, a first-generation American whose parents survived the Armenian Genocide.
“It was a brutal slaughtering of people,” Krikorian says. “You can still feel all of the emotion and pain.” Yet, he explains, it requires a level of emotional removal to craft the details into the kind of poems that won him this year’s Benjamin B. Wainwright Prize for poetry. “Krikorian’s work has a certain level of gravitas,” Jackson says. “It is some of the best writing that I have encountered since I started teaching here at UVM.”
April 24 commemorates the night in 1915 that ushered in the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government. The following work by Krikorian puts the images that live within the lives of families into words:
Hazel Remembers the Massacres
Oh, it was awful I guess.
Throats cut, sons beheaded—
Boys were butchered like lambs
for kebab, the unborn held high on a sword,
pulled from the belly of the mother.
That’s the easy part though, the rest looms
like a fever in the cold.
Women were lined like a slaver’s bazaar
single-file, naked with nothing but coins
in their uterus. That should have been enough,
but the Turks needed more,
they danced them like dervishes
set wild aflame, or like Araxi to Zorab
she’d become their whore,
so long as she was alone in the world.
There are a lot of underground places in Armenia
where the people could speak
in their native tongue. It was forbidden
so they hid beneath their homes
to share secrets
as though they were still alive.
Cousin Baidzar, sweet quidg, awoke
to mordant blindness like she was tied
in an ungovan blanket. Bodies tumbled
like a gourd pile all around her, the sun
a broker of sight on her mother’s last embrace.
She walked away like a whisper of the dead,
her earlobes cut wet for their gold.
Past the Turkish border was a promise
like the Holy Land that curdled in the stomach
and browned. Forty years were never so cruel
as the caravan of lies left drying
like figs in the Syrian desert.
They were torn from their mountain like skin from bone,
ever marching to a place that was nothing
to end like dogs starving on their own wails.
After a hundred years, words
are all that’s left.