“As a poet, there are certain milestones you can mark, vague and blurry as they are, about writers and experiences and pieces that changed the way you approach your craft. Reading Talin Tahajian’s poetry has been one of these formative moments in my relationship with the craft of writing and understanding how it operates not only on a level of metaphor and meaning, but also subliminally. Talin’s poetry is an interplay of images, of the way sceneries of the mind can become metaphors for larger, more deeper meanings, and how the individual identity roams freely even when tied down physically.. The kind of internal monologues her work explores become reflections of some of the best pieces you might’ve ever read – there is a universality to them, but also ground for questioning, for doubt, a whole room to move in and interpret as you please. It is perhaps the best quality a work of art could claim to have.”
–Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor
Շարական (“In this new country”)
I’m living in a ridiculous, beautiful imitation
of a place I’ve already lived.
America’s scholarly faux cathedrals—
her gothic turrets and traceries—
her autumn-evening blue-bright architectures—
the way the light leaks in, cutting neat the forested edge of the entire visible world—
where the street folds into itself and ends without indication—
where everything is made miniature at the end of a long brick road with maples—
her nouveau riche. Her strange glories inherited—
her good real estate. Such a good way to render this discovered
immaculate land—I wake up, and my goddess-huge maple
has started to turn. Its leaves all flushed through.
September is over. And still I don’t know where in the world I am—
Here, in this new country, more people look like me—look just like me—
In moments of daily theophany, I walk by girls who look like me.
Imagine, all of us together again in the cul-de-sac of our ancestors.
Lined up as tiny identical icons—assembled in perfect portraiture—
kissing our խաչքարեր for mercy—but this time, not shot dead in turn—
Խարբերդ, the place we’re from, is no longer part of our country.
And, most of all, we’ll say, of Արարատ, they stole our beautiful mountain.
I don’t know what’s left in Armenia for me.
And Aleppo is gone.
In my mind, every day, I’m still on King’s Parade—
I’m crossing the same bridge over and over—
I did the best I could—it doesn’t matter—
there’s no place for me in England—
I waited three years to go into King’s Chapel, and when I did, my blood was flashing artificial—
I was seeing things that God didn’t choose to make—all of us
showing such petty irreverence for those blood-blue vaults and buttresses, all of us
together beneath the ripe-hanging festival moon—
The drugs tortured me as they left me—They torture me and again
again the torture, as the sun rose, through my fits and figures,
sapped primordial as Michelangelo’s yet-lifeless Adam, palms limp—
reaching toward grace—for the drugs—in some other kind of begging
before prayer existed at all—farewell, love, I’ve thought to myself
as I rise with it—the chemicals—naming myself and my friends over and over.
I sometimes forget my nomenclatures—I sometimes forget—
Once, I licked drugs from the hands of someone I love
disgustingly particularly—do you remember?—
I am reminded of creation as wicked in a way that can’t be described
in speech or spell—that devilish art—I was named after a village
with a cathedral inside it . Talin, first misnamed nine
centuries ago by an ancient astronomer—an old master—I’d rather forget.
I name myself—Թալին—I name him too—Ptolemy—
O my ancestors—O my lovely lost forgotten գուսանք—
my own little շարական—I create you—
I don’t know you—I still don’t know what parts of me are holy—
(Published in The Rumpus, July 2018)
Inklette: This question may be a little vague, but in all our reading of your work, starting from the very beginning, we’ve noticed that a number of your poems feature bird imagery as a recurring metaphor. What’s the intention behind this? Do you think we as writers tie ourselves to certain images and metaphors over the course of our careers?
Talin: I’m still young, too. Once, I was asked a similar question, and I said I’d never come away from the dead birds, or something like that. But I think, largely, now, I have done. I think it has to do with what we’re casting ourselves up against, at the moment—writers create imitable things, and I think that part of growing up and learning is sapping them all up—the ones that really stick with you—and spitting them back out. So, early on, I guess I was reading a lot of poets who use a lot of birds, and that’s how I learned how to write. They’re also, of course, almost infinitely poetic creatures—as in, literally, able to be poeticized—and can stand for love, hope, fear, loss, overcoming hardship, the transcendent, et cetera. This is why they are so malleable in the hands of new and seasoned poets alike, and another reason why they’re probably all through my older stuff.
That being said, about the “concrete metaphor”: I think we latch and unlatch like barnacles as we grow older, as the seasons change, as we move from city to city, and we’re surrounded by different objects and spaces…
Inklette: How does a poet know the extent to which the usage of symbols would retain their personal appeal to the poet, while also not appearing overly cryptic to the readers?
Talin: The question, to me, seems to be about what is expected of the reader—what sort of reader are we expected to be? What does difficulty ask of us?—what does poetry ask of us? Does poetry really “[require] nothing of you other than a willing ear,” as Jia Tolentino recently described for The New Yorker? Poetic “difficulty” raises questions about elitism and precipitates discussion about the literarily “democratic,” qua Geoffrey Hill. It’s all about readerly expectation. But where does expectation come from? Again, it’s something constructed by our own understanding of what poetry “is” or “should be,” which comes from our own vertical and horizontal reading. So, the “symbol”-object, as you call it, will mean something different to me than it means to you, and it will mean something different to another reader, et cetera. I definitely don’t always intend for readers to “understand” everything that I write; that is, to interpret it in the same way that I do—how could they? Instead, I hope that they can sap from it what they like, the way different metals, affected by the same sound wave, ring with different tones?
Earth usually has more than one moon, study suggests
When the last stellar-studded gown swept across the whole
bleeding world, I cried. The pearly night ate me up. Marveling,
you ask, What is it like, living in the larval object? I used to know—
the same goes for our sloshing planet. Now, I forget most things.
The darkness is round and white. It has become glorious and full.
It’s remarkable—the way everything glows with the putrid energy
of an oyster mushroom decaying a dead and violated animal.
Long ago, before the end, the pink-grown sky haunted me lengthily
with an old, Western beauty. I was born beneath a sprawling display
of spring-torn clouds. I died the whitest death. Now, incessantly—
I’m bored of being famous; I just want to be a good person. I live in a glade
in an inside-out universe, a spell of sopping moss. Don’t you see?
I have risen from the black smoke of the new Levant, the richest part
where the moon is twice. O, you—you break my thrashing heart.
(Published in The Iowa Review Online, April 2018)
Inklette: Two of your poems—“Perseids” and “Signs of Life,” both my absolute favourites—focus on merging internal monologues with metaphors of cities and coastlines. What’s the idea or the somewhat deeper meaning behind this? How does your conception of cities influence your writing?
Talin: Wow—well, I think that, right now, the city-as-poem and city-as-transgressable/trespassable-object is the obsessive place toward/into/in which I write, qua the first question… I’m not sure why. I like the way that reality and not-realities seem to coexist in the city. In a pretty typical way, I also have a lot of memories and passions and nostalgias attached to specific cities, and those are the ones in which most of my work lives, at the moment.
Inklette: A lot of your poetry focuses on interiority and reads like a stream-of-consciousness piece. At the same time, it also relates itself to, say, the immediate surroundings. Do you find this challenging? Do you think it can be hard to situate an internal monologue with, say, a political or social theme?
Talin: I don’t think it’s hard for some people—immediately, Nicole Sealey’s “Virginia is for Lovers,” sam sax’s “Executive Order,” and Dorianne Laux’s “Facts About the Moon” come to mind, and there are many, many others—but, usually, I think it’s challenging for me, yes. I think I need to go somewhere, insert myself into that place, and that’s usually the right kind of fodder for me. Recently, I went back to Cambridge (UK) to do this, and it was incredibly important to me that I did. I believe that, in some way, most social themes are still spatial. (That’s one of those generalizations about which I’ll definitely disagree with myself in a few years, but hey.) The space is always there to ground the monologue, to tether it to the Earth.
“If there is still one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.”
I live in beautiful old buildings
that your fathers lived in,
& their fathers. Nothing is real until it is.
You’d hate that.
It’s hard to hurt things.
I’m afraid of spiders but I still scoop them cold
into my hands & let them free. Where’s the church
for things like this. I could talk about churches
but for the dust. I could talk
about cities but for the mist. Last night, I stepped out
into the crystal-cold English night & our looming chapel
was hanging in fog. None of us even deserve
any of this: the only city that envelops you like a shrine
to something you’re not even good enough to worship.
The not-church is my bedroom
& my soft-stained sink. The not-church is everything you, boy, think you know.
I’ve seen your books. I’ve seen your pen. Artaud called it
burning at the stake. I have burned & burned but is it burning
if there’s no one there to see? I burn
in a dark gorgeous cave in a turn of twisting earth
& there are no sounds there, & no figures
or forms, but the softest crystals on earth, pieces of not-rock
& not-thing & I burn in the not-light / & I bleed into my soap-stained sink
still soft / & I sign as I am supposed to sign:
standing straight still, signaling nothing, with nothing, for nothing, forgetting
my name as an echo that drifts & leaves its way to the shrine-city for which none of us
are good enough, where it disappears into the system of bells
as just another tonal, longing thing, lengthening & fading.
From my not-church in a building older
than our fathers, I hear it & don’t recognize myself
in it. I hear bells where, somewhere, in another
similar universe, there are no bells,
but through the chapel-feasting flames, an echo
from some dark-cave slick stone stake
signing Talin, Talin, Talin, Talin, Talin, Talin, Talin,
until, in the distance, a small body
falls from a cave in a cavernous crag, a burnt,
budding thing, still crying or bleeding, so thin
& so rot for mercy.
(Published in Cosmonauts Avenue, March 2017)
Inklette: In your artistic career, has there ever been a particular poem that you started working on and stopped? What was it about? Do you ever think about going back to it?
Talin: There are pieces that I think about writing, but I really don’t tend to start until they’re fully cooked—fully marinated? Ready to simmer? Or, done simmering and ready to boil? Either way, what I mean is that I don’t usually start things unless I’m itching to write them, and pretty deeply aware that I’m ready to write them, which is usually a gut feeling. That’s not to say they’re perfect. But I sit on things for a while. I sat on the topics of “Landscape” and “Barn Point” for ages, for instance—until I had a poem in me, fully and definitely, and until I knew that I’d got something—even if that “something” were very small—somehow right.
Inklette: How have your sources of artistic inspiration changed over the span of your career?
Talin: Now, I learn and draw from the materials around me differently, and with a more critical eye, than I did when I was in high school. And I’m more aware and knowledgeable of the long poetic tradition of which we’re all a part—so, more to draw from. But I think the “inspiration,” the root of everything, must be the thing that doesn’t change—maybe not the reason the hand drags the knife, but the hand, or that the knife is dragged? I hope that makes some sense. Thanks for these questions.
I keep a strange list
The night whistles in
as through two
I turn to myself
and say Help
I think I am killing myself—
this is everything we think we want.
Roadkill is so intimate. Launch yourself
into the gore-warm
Hello the drowning
is so good Come back no one
can talk to buildings Come home
but I am missionless. I wait
for the water to reclaim
the high white columns
of our fathers. I am from an old city
and, now, from other older cities.
It’s hard to remember.
Sometimes, I walk
on the wrong side of the road
in the wrong country.
I am always dazed
and easily dazzled.
Like any good drug, a cold
glass of coffee lifts me bright.
I keep a strange list
of people I love.
I keep my own personal
terrible holy spirit.
It lives in my faint blood
and my whole animal heart.
We beat together. He is so cold.
Real gods knife you up.
I have experienced indications of the end of the world
so I’ve never been happy.
But I’ve been euphoric. If anyone ever
listened to me, they would know prophecies
and spells Come home to the water
but they don’t listen—they never—
(Published in Peach Mag, July 2018)
TALIN TAHAJIAN grew up near Boston. Her poetry has appeared in the Kenyon Review Online, Indiana Review, Best New Poets 2014 & 2016, Black Warrior Review, and the Rumpus. She edits poetry for Big Lucks and the Adroit Journal, and is an MFA candidate at the University of Michigan. Check out her website and her Twitter.