Volume 75
Number 3

"We Teach Possibilities"

Ghost Stories

In Hog Heaven






Ghost Stories | Page 1, 2, 3

AS HE DISCUSSES he discusses the Armenian genocide from his office overlooking the Quad, Kalaidjian is clearly disconcerted.

Outside, students with spring fever toss Frisbees and avoid studying for final exams. Inside, Kalaidjian quietly recounts his discovery of an ethnic heritage that has been peripheral at most for his family since his grandfather died when he was three.

“It’s easier to write about than to talk about,” he says simply and frankly.

A lanky, bespectacled man with coarse, black hair salted with grey, Kalaidjian appears to be of Near Eastern descent. But his surname is the giveaway: the suffix “–ian” was given to Armenian subjects by the Ottomans long before the genocide. Like the Irish “O’–” and “Mc–” it means “son of.”

In his literary and personal investigations, Kalaidjian has encountered a whole community of fellow Armenian-Americans, among them Peter Balakian and Dianna Der Hovanessian, poets whose work Kalaidjian is now studying and with whom he corresponds about the third-generation survivor experience. Der Hovanessian, president of the New England Poetry Club, is a visiting poet and guest lecturer at various universities; Balakian is an English professor at Colgate University.

Both Balakian and Der Hovanessian are Kalaidjian’s age and, like him, grew up in suburban America during the 1950s and ’60s, a life experience significantly different from that of their Armenian ancestors. The contrast between their lives as “normal” American teens in the 1950s—rooting for the Yankees, listening to rock and roll, sharing milkshakes with friends—and the atrocities their families faced has had a dramatic impact on the art of both Balakian and Der Hovanessian.

When these writers turned their poetic efforts toward the genocide, Kalaidjian says, their work virtually began to explode with dense, rich imagery that also seems to float, strangely unrooted, like the writers’ own conflicted emotions.


From "The Field of Poppies"
by Peter Balakian, 1979

Cypress spiral to the sky.
Your father found this field
and the mountain uncovered,
the monastery a pure glint of sun.
You want this picture
to show your body disappearing
in the red waves of flower,
a field of pin-pricks
rising and falling in the breeze,
each step spreading the red
over your joints.

You want the red to cover
the mountain,
you want the line where
sky and land meet
to turn the color of the heart.
This is how your father left;
foot, knee, stomach, face
disappearing in the stain of this field,
in the light wind that sang
in the red flowers.

Copyright 1983 by Peter Balakian. Reprinted with permission.

“Peter’s poems encode the experiences [of his grandparents and extended family in Turkey], interestingly enough, through floral imagery,” says Kalaidjian. “He has these very sensuous images of floral motifs, almost like Georgia O’Keefe’s huge floral canvases. Tulips and poppies. Fields of red tulips and poppies recur as icons of the killing fields of the genocide. [In other poems, there is] the glare of a certain quality of light, which is invasive.”

Balakian described the effect of the genocide on his own poetry in his 1997 memoir, Black Dog of Fate. “The journey into history, into the Armenian genocide, was for me inseparable from poetry,” he says. “Poetry was part of the journey and the excavation.”


Photo | Four-year-old Vazken Boyajian (left), shown here in a 1915 portrait with his brother Garabed, was kidnapped on the deportation route to Deir-el-Zor and never heard from again, despite repeated attempts to locate him by the Red Cross and his parents, who were deported to Baghdad.
Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives,
courtesy of Elizabeth Roberts, Detroit, Michigan


  Learn more about the Armenian genocide by visiting the Armenian National Institute.





©1999 Emory University