Kherdian, David (Vol. 6)
Kherdian, David 1931–
Kherdian, an American of Armenian ancestry, is an accomplished poet, a publisher, William Saroyan's bibliographer, and author of Six San Francisco Poets. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-22.)
[In his introduction to On the Death of My Father, William Saroyan suggests that many of Kherdian's poems are] "hard working" and thus somehow less preferable [than the ones that "don't strain"]…. Yet it is the reaching that often makes a poem—the practices of the poem, and the concurrent disciplines of life that provide the actual spirit of the poem demand a search, a deliberate attempt toward discovery, both in the craft of the poem and in the content (musical, pictured, stated) which it finally offers on the page. Here, in these poems, I often find Kherdian posing not only something viable and charged on the page, but offering freely the particles of the search, glimpses of his mind, who he is, where he comes from—why it is, finally, that he sees as he does. One very necessary activity of the poet, as Emerson pointed out, is to see—then, later, he names, he gives voice to what he has seen.
I find this book solid, with good craftsmanship throughout, and—most important—with real feelings that are evoked. It is in the evocation that the poet can and should excel. Simply placing emotional words on the page is never enough to make a poem. The poem must call forth emotion as well as, hopefully, showing the new vision from this new poet or that new poet. Kherdian's poems quite often succeed at this evocation.
Keith Wilson, in The New Mexican, March 29, 1970.
In stages marked by a three-part division of the poetry [in On the Death of My Father], the poet has let his life gather about the quiet, solid center of his own search for roots and a sense of place. The style is consistently direct, simple, expressive: the poems firmly grounded in vivid sense impressions.
The theme of upheaval, its effect on his own immediate family, links the first eight poems of the volume….
The poems in Section II seek roots and a sense of place primarily through a sense of relatedness with nature….
In the final section, "the green leaves of an embracing vine" again grow out of a more intimate, personal soil: the rootedness of man and wife. Moving from the bedroom, and the quiet after lovemaking, to the living room and Christmas preparations, these poems reveal a new sense of place and of endless renewal.
Quiet and expressive, the poems of this book are at their best when either the tension of strong feeling ("On the Death of My Father") or humorous empathy ("Six Days Before Christmas") is contained within their conversational, free verse frames. The poems that fall short of this tension are marked, it seems, by a proselike or merely anecdotal quality. The book is, in addition, a pleasure to read and handle—an edition in which cover, text and format compose a satisfying artistic whole.
Betty Buchsbaum, "Two for the Money," in Ararat, Summer, 1970, No. 43, p. 49.
Although David Kherdian's poetry is a series of direct personal statements it does not belong to the current confessional schools. His are recollections, harsh, wry, bitter, sweet, but not the wild gushings, not the residue of the big purge. There is neither a terrible urgency nor a revulsion of things past. It is smooth. And, as William Saroyan says in his [introduction to On the Death of My Father]: "the best poems don't strain." (p. 7)
Diana Der Hovanessian, in The Armenian-Mirror Spectator, September 5, 1970.
When home is lost, it becomes a place you have to find. These days, nothing stays found: things happen, people move, even the landscape or the cityscape may be transformed. In such a time people adjust the things around them, to maintain stability in the moving world.
The poems in David Kherdian's collection [Homage to Adana] help to accomplish this essential task; they catch in terms of particulars the kind of experience everyone has, so that the perceived flow becomes a reminder of the world's sustaining ways. Back over the years these poems reach—to a place, a set of people, a succession of related experiences.
The place is an eternal one—childhood's home, with the characters who fill that world, with a friend for fishing trips, and a kitchen where a mother is reheating the cold food. Somehow, even without overdoing it, the poems give a boy's perspective: those places where the father visited are known and felt, but they remain somewhat mysterious; the places uncles remember are far and strange, but precious. The whole world is drawn into the immediate situation by means of deep, grownup lives that touch on young lives. Touch by touch, the world goes out, as a child comes to know what values guide those around him. (pp. 39-40)
The experiences seem various, but they all carry the reader into one very particular kind of vision that marks the whole book: all encounters contribute to a steady increment of charity and knowledge, the kind of knowledge that leads outward to understanding and onward to cherishing. Every person takes on an inner life that comes from a realizing of identities. The experiences lead to understanding, and the understanding leads to love.
The poems in this book are all one poem, a sequence that leads into the heart of how it feels to become adult. Aimed far over the heads of those sufferers who embrace alienation, these poems link us all through perception, and yoke our lives together. No forceful rhetoric is required in this kind of poetry, no overcoming of the reader: he is invited and identified, and treasured. Poem after poem lets the reader take his own chosen way forward, by means of communication that does not try to dazzle….
This is an assuring book, an accompaniment for a reader who is willing to consider surviving, and facing the human condition and using its elements in the process of centering his life. (p. 40)
William Stafford, "Finding Home," in Ararat, Summer, 1971, No. 47, pp. 39-40.
In many respects, Kherdian's poetry reminds one of Robert Bly, and his literary philosophy of the glorification of the commonplace has overtones of Wordsworth. Kherdian is simple, yet profound, tranquility; he, like Bly, employs simple and direct language to emphasize the significance and vitality of all which surrounds us. His writing is refreshingly visceral, thoroughly devoid of the academic didactism which characterizes so much modern poetry.
He is a writer of pleasing vigor, one who evokes the gamut of human emotions without resorting to the verbal hijinks of a less gifted poet. His short poems are not to be explicated; they are to be heard, felt, and lived with. The feelings are warm….
At his best, Kherdian has that "sublime sense" which Wordsworth presented in "Tintern Abbey"; his work is a quiet and evocative journey which cannot fail to leave one with a greater appreciation of even the most mundane objects. To say that he is an aesthete would be inaccurate, but he certainly has an aesthetic appreciation of life which is possessed by few.
Kherdian's "Six San Francisco Poets", is a prose work, but the author's remarkably sensitive writing makes the book a poem in six parts. In his discussions of Snyder, Whalen, McClure, Meltzer, Ferlenghetti and Antoninus, Kherdian avoids the usual critical analyses in an attempt to present the personality traits and philosophies which make these poets' works so distinctive. He succeeds admirably.
Robert L. Goodman, "The Poetry of Kherdian," in The Dartmouth, May 25, 1972.
What is admirable about [Homage to Adana] is that, in clearly establishing his own identity, he does not turn his back on what has been essential to the identities and lives of others. Kherdian is putting down roots in a new land, but without casting off those ancestral ties which make him who he is. By consequence many of Kherdian's poems represent a different and delicate balance between youthful objects of veneration, present feelings of displacement, and the recognition of new American necessities. The poem which most directly captures this ambivalence is "For My Father."…
In reading Kherdian one thinks of T. S. Eliot's phrase "the life of significant soil." Feelings of personal estrangement are strong throughout the book….
This book of poems is governed by a clear understanding of the continuity of past, present, and future. It expresses the need to value what is worthy in the past without mortgaging the promise of the future. The language is direct and daring, the symbols moving and universal, and the characters alive.
William Aiken, in Avarayr, 1972.
Kherdian's work comes from silence, was written in silence, and leaves silence in its wake. From the title [Looking Over Hills] one would expect panoramas, but his poetry concentrates on small details in a large landscape—a cat sleeping on a bed, moss growing on the base of a tree, a grasshopper on a twig. Instead of trying frantically to rearrange reality, the poet calls attention to it in a soft voice. None of the poems is over a page long, though several of them seem to fall into sequences, e.g. poems in the middle of the first section all concern pines and could well be made into one longer work—except such an arrangement would give the impression of the poet talking more rapidly, and silences are very much a part of Kherdian's technique.
One of the joys of contemporary poetry is that there are so many competent poets writing in their own voices of what matters to them. The voices are not loud, but they are certain. (pp. 23-4)
Victor Contoski, in Quixote, Summer, 1974, Vol. 8, No. 7.
David Kherdian's inimitably attractive lyrics of married love, "The Nonny Poems," … are supremely good. Biblical in cadence, hieratic, caressing, artlessly simple—and that means not simple at all—they carry an Armenian domestic ethos into English.
Charles A. Brady, in The Buffalo Evening News, July 27, 1974.
[Kherdian's] lyric celebration is of love [in "The Nonny Poems"], as in simple, direct statement he articulates the fear, the suffering, the tenderness of this unique relation…. The shaping of Kherdian's poems is uncomplicated, his insights profound, as he delineates marriage and the peace that followed…. The poems move in love's presences and captivate the reader completely.
Sister Therese Lentfoehr, in The Milwaukee Journal, February 16, 1975.
Kherdian, David (Vol. 9)
Kherdian, David 1931–
Kherdian is an American poet. His family, their Armenian heritage, and his childhood play an important part in his poems, especially in his early work. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)
Of the four books of his own poems that Kherdian has published under the Giligia imprint, Homage to Adana is probably his best. At least it contains more of those poems he does best, the Armenian poems, remembrances of his childhood and family. They are personal poems, simply dealing in conversational language with the commonplace. Kherdian has captured the dignity and suffering not only of his Armenian ancestors, but of immigrant people everywhere. He touches on the poignancy of fathers abandoned by their "unruly preoccupied children" uninterested in the language or culture of the old country. And then:
Years later these grown children
seek out aging old men who knew
their fathers and carry Armenia
in their fallen faces. Armenia!
Each regards that country now as his home.
These poems and others like them from On the Death of My Father and Other Poems reflect Kherdian's experience of identifying with a more defined and therefore solid background of his heritage, an experience not uncommon among second generation Americans. (pp. 41-2)
[The poems in On the Death of My Father] reflect his growing interest in nature and his own domestic life. These poems foreshadow not only looking over hills, but also The Nonny Poems and the poems he is currently working on. Having received his start by mining his family and past, Kherdian is now branching out. The newer poems show a maturity in style. They are economical and much surer in execution, but the nature poems from looking over hills have lost something of his warmth. (p. 42)
Charles L. P. Silet, "David Kherdian and the Giligia Press," in Poet and Critic (copyright © Department of English and Speech, Iowa State University), Vol. 9, No. 1, 1975, pp. 39-44.
Like the Chinese art that with a few lines and bits of color suggests a vista, the poems in [Any Day of Your Life] present with few words profound experiences of natural life…. [Kherdian's] language has actually grown more taut than before, without becoming tense. This is because the work suggests peace without slackness. It is wrought by a poet who can write with truth of "my silent eye in the changing light." It is a certain kind of "silent eye," the kind which seems to have learned the silence which the Old Testament urges us to seek: "Be still and know …" And the miracle, if I may continue the metaphor, is thus performed. It is the silence between and even within the poems which now achieves what the poet hoped for when he was a beginning poet: "… to feel rooted in my own life/I must sit still and let my life gather about me." The occasional danger in this kind of writing lies in presenting a piece so thin as to be invisible. Happily this occurs only rarely in any of Kherdian's poetry.
It would be simple to note that these latest poems are part of the ongoing words that capture what happens in the man's life: the reading of a book; the pleasure of being alone; the enjoyment of companionship with his wife and their cats; the remembering of his Armenian background and tradition. Truly, Any Day of Your Life gives us days which are remarkably like the days of any one of us, if we made poetry of them instead of poses of ourselves. What has occurred here is dual growth: growth in actual life into the spirit of the life about him, as well as growth of the life in the poems, giving to us who momentarily share his life the wonderful mating of life and poetry that takes place in "The Anniversary Song." Although the poems in this volume can be felt and understood without knowing his earlier books at all, it is necessary to know them to realize fully "the changing light" that has come to the poet; for the light is not only the metaphor for changing times and ways. It suggests, as well, the ancient meaning of light, which is wisdom through perception. Without being in the least theological, moralistic, or didactic, the poems give to a jaded, shaken-up time the realization of the miracle of any day of your life. (pp. 54-5)
Alice Moser Claudel, in The New Laurel Review, Spring, 1976.
Kherdian gives life to Chaucer's important category "for the nones" in his Nonny Poems, as well as to many other basal English musings, most of them hymeneal, most of them on harmony and offspring, art and life. The lyric poet's gasp from Sappho to Poe is there and so is the playful title "Ah, Nonny, Nonny." The heavy side of Chaucer's "nones" is in Kherdian's frequent allusions to writing ("my art"; "my poems"; "my scratchings"); the nuns and the solemnities of the Nonae can be heard in New York artists' love and marriage; in the "creatively ordered" apartments; in the middle limbo of beads, incense, frantic subway rides, and wasted family ill will. The lighter, but not empty, "nonce" is in the minimalist second half of the book. The New Hampshire sequence, in retrospect, is indifferent even to the tribal self-realization of the poet, who was becoming more and more Armenian as he was making his English more real historically, as he came to engage more styles of poetic introspection from Wyatt to Auden. The New York section can be read rather pleasantly as homeopathic exorcism of like by like…. New York, mimetically, is the plerosis on eggplant and pilaf, gnomic transitions, pride, even learned art. New Hampshire's just seasons, on the other hand, is the phase of kenosis, the place in perfect consonance with the verse, and equally mimetic: No tensions, no possessions—"Through/the day it snowed/and all day we waited/at the window/in confusion and want."
Kherdian's second personal collection (Any Day of Your Life), sustains the "want" and spareness of the New Hampshire sequence in the Nonny Poems, but clearly slides into the euphonic second helpings of the ruby-crowned kinglet, the Israel of fact and fiction alliterated by Charles Reznikoff's name, and by the Christmas anagram in the Basic Book of Organic Gardening. Poems for the liberal cultural native. His cognac, the Buddha hour for cats, afghans, Brubeck playing Brubeck, and Kherdian is back in the ads of the New York Review of Books. Perfect cartoonist's matter, if it were not for the late triple rictus of the American Poetry Review in the inventory of the modest pleasures of the sensitive intellectuals of the sixties. The exceptions are worth noticing. The allusions to language are not the diaristic dramatizations of someone who tries to remember his vocation; as soon as they occur—and they are good things for the poems to be working up to—the poems end: "I clear my throat/for the perched birds/to hear/and begin my speech."… There is genuine refinement again of the anecdotal and the introspective in a poem called "Again": "'Genius is hard/work,' I say aloud, and write/it down, ending this poem/only to begin the next." (pp. 175-76)
Stavros Deligiorgis, "Ethos/Ethnos," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review (copyright © by Parnassus: Poetry in Review), Spring-Summer, 1976, pp. 175-82.
[Any Day of Your Life] is a continuation of Kherdian's The Nonny Poems …, in which he lovingly recorded his courtship and marriage with Nonny Hogrogian. Any Day of Your Life extends their experience out into the countryside, retaining the comfortable, domestic warmth of the Nonny poems while echoing the nature studies of Kherdian's looking over hills. This time, however, it is nature in context, in relationship with the two of them, and it makes for a much more satisfying collection.
Much of what is appealing about this new volume of poems is the gentle acceptance with which Kherdian experiences life. It reminds one of his earlier poems about his childhood and youth among his Armenian family. Perhaps this generosity comes in part because Nonny, too, is Armenian. But primarily, this acceptance appears to result from their relationship and is reflected in Kherdian's maturing command of his idiom. It is a small world he explores, one full of love and nature. It is a quiet, domestic world of seed catalogues and planning for spring, of baking bread and of writing poems. He writes about the seasons of life and man's need for and closeness to the earth, "our final comfort/and friend."
Like the Nonny poems, these verses explore the private and close world of lovers, claustrophobic but for the insistent intrusion of the seasons and the expansive joy which true intimacy can bring. These are love poems, for Nonny, for nature, for the undeniably human longing for warmth and comfort. (pp. 39-40)
The poems give a permanence to life as well as a pre-eminence. Locked together, Kherdian's images preserve for us fleeting glimpses of lives well-lived. (p. 40)
Charles L. P. Silet, in Poet and Critic (© Department of English, Iowa State University), Volume 9, Number 3, 1976.