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.
Its 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 Kalaidjians 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 1950srooting for the Yankees, listening to rock and roll, sharing milkshakes with friendsand 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.
Peters 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 OKeefes 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.
| 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