What So Cal Poets Are
Edited by liz gonzález
we review Imprint by Tina Demirdjian and
Skid by Dean Young.
Imprint by 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
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.
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.
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 protective layer . . .
heals a wound
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.
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
Pittsburgh Press, 2002.
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).
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.
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
than one first thought’ which makes
nervous in a good, young-in-/
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
another produces light…
ideas or images combined with more uncomplicated ideas or images can
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.
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.
quotes for poem titles and excerpts of poems only.
Refer to the other reviews for format and to use as a model.