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...
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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.