What So Cal Poets Are Reading

Edited by liz gonzález


This month we review Imprint by Tina Demirdjian and Skid by Dean Young.



Imprint by Tina Demirdjian
Abril Publishing, 2003  

Tina Demirdjian lives in Los Angeles.  Her poetry has appeared in Aspora, Ararat International Journal, the Los Angeles Times, High Performance, Midwest Poetry Review, the Texas Observer, and Birthmark: a Bi-Lingual Anthology of Armenian-American poetry.   


Reviewed by Arpi Sarafian

The poems in Imprint do indeed leave an indelible imprint of ancestral chants, of women in long dark clothing and dark silent eyes, of stuffed mussels, “salty, oily and full of flavor/ready to fill your mouth.”  Tina’s images, so exact and so stunningly fresh, reach deep into the experience and give expression to her feelings with such delicacy and sensitivity that the world she represents becomes our own.  

Although as various as “The Silence of Blue” “that wraps around our tongues/like a blue ribbon tied in a bow,” or “Aunt Sylvia in the Waiting Room,”  “round and white like the moon waning/in the blue and silver-metal chair,” when read together, the poems have a coherence that goes beyond the play of language and the easy cadences, to convey moral value.  The mothers, the grandmothers and the great grandmothers, to whom the book is dedicated, may be silent-- “as if there were a prize for keeping silent”--but the poems “speak out loud.”  Tina’s celebration of this “lost community,” to borrow the words of renowned poet Octavio Paz, helps us recover our “collective memory” and goes a long way towards preserving our cultural identity. 

Indeed, Tina’s Armenian heritage inevitably comes through in her poetry.  The references to the 1915 Genocide are sometimes direct.  More often, however, a whole history of exile and silencing is subtly woven into ordinary everyday experiences, like attending a wedding, looking at family photographs, or delivering a letter to the mailbox. 

Even when piercingly dark—The angry Birch “swooped to the ground/ in the winter’s ice/ like a hand praying to hell/ she knelt below the bitter cold sky/ and I/ knelt down by her side”—the honesty of these poems and the rich insight they yield lifts and delights us.  There is certainly no despair here.  Quite the contrary.  Memories may be all we have left of things past, but like the old woman in “A Day at an Armenian Wedding,” who miraculously finds herself seated next to the daughter of her long lost brother, we can boldly, even if tearfully, say, “I am 80 years old and I’ve/never given up hope.”   We also know that the soil “At the Holy Site in Gyumri” “will bear fruit again/in me.”  The bones, now, are “unearthed and full of flesh.”   Indeed, Tina’s poems provide

A healing place

a wound


a protective layer . . .

A scab

heals a wound

for life.

                        --from “Scab”

Through Tina’s poetry we get to know the fearful child, but also the grown up woman, unafraid of what hurts.  More importantly, we encounter a beautiful human being and can hardly wait to go back to the elegant little volume for more of her sweet delights.

Arpi Sarafian, PhD., is a Lecturer in English Language and Literature at the English Department at California State University, Los Angeles, and her articles have been published in Ararat, The Armenian Observer, Virginia Woolf Miscellany, and the Los Angeles Times.

by Dean Young
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002. 

Dean Young lives in Berkeley, California, and has four other books of poems: First Course in Turbulence (Pitts Poetry Series, 1999); Strike Anywhere (1995), which won the Colorado Poetry Prize; Design with X (1988); and Beloved Infidel (1992). 

Reviewed by Catherine Turner

It’s easy to get lost in the mosaic of images Dean Young hammers together in his most recent collection, Skid.  Like surrealist visual art, Young’s poetry is at first undecipherable and random.  Individual images and ideas are striking and often compelling, but seemingly alienated in poems which cram them together. The glue to these poems, individually, and as a collection, is their consistency of purpose and energy. 

The author’s diligence in attempting to portray the “complicated” is optimistic and youthful.  Young believes his zeal is unappreciated by classicists, who fail to appreciate the varied resources of life. He hates “those poems.  Even a regular burrito,/no guacamole, was more full of life/than those poems.” 

On the whole, [he is] in favor

of the sense that ‘things are more complicated

than one first thought’ which makes one

nervous in a good, young-in-/

the-fingertips way.”

                        --from “Action Figuring."

In the poem, “Not in Any Ha Ha Way,” “There was no question about going down/the cat food light bulb hygiene aisle.”  This grocery store aisle, the one that crams leftover, unrelated products together, is a perfect analogy for the poems’ organization.  In other poems, he more overtly explains this poetic device:

          By the random plunking

          of particle into particle

          which in one case

          levels mountains,

          another produces light…

                                    --from “Honeycomb”

Uncomplicated ideas or images combined with more uncomplicated ideas or images can become complicated. 

For example, in “Whale Watch,” Young travels quickly from “baby bullfrogs and satellites” to a “yo-yo,“ to “sestinas” to products “beneath the kitchen sink” and to sand on the beach.  But, this complication has purpose. All images are valuable because they may spark enlightenment, such as the “crumb" he is “clamoring over” because he thinks it’s “the world” in the poem. 

Catherine Turner is an MFA student in poetry at Bennington College, YMCA arts programmer, freelancer and resident of San Juan Capistrano.

So Cal poets, please email  me your reviews of a recently published poetry book or chapbook. See guidelines below.


  • Paste the review in the body of your e-mail. No attachments.
  • 250-300 word limit.
  • Include a two-sentence bio for the book author: City in which s/he lives and publication credits.
  • Include your one-sentence bio: Publication credits.
  • Use quotes for poem titles and excerpts of poems only.
  • Refer to the other reviews for format and to use as a model. 

Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach