David Kherdian Essay - Critical Essays

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.