In The Architecture of Bone by Alan Semerdjian
Reviewed by K. T. MITCHELL
GenPop Books, 2009
If a culture could be recreated with words, Alan Semerdjian has built a veritable microcosm of the Armenian lifestyle in his most recent poetry collection, In The Architecture of Bone. The aptness of collection’s title materializes as Semerdjian discusses the very marrow of the Armenian community of Queens; the card players “writing poems between shuffles,” his fretting mother who “didn’t even know who Walt Whitman was,” “the handle of the cup” that “looked like an Armenian nose.”
Description of the quotidian are cloaked with a nostalgia for childhood tempered by adult realism. As a result, Semerdjian’s tranquil voice jingles with hidden rhythmic assonance paired with rhyme. In 'The Areodynamics', Semerdjian rhymes “individually,” “balcony,” “accuracy” and repeats key phrases to accentuate what struck him as the most important parts of his family when he was a child. Although Semerdjian “can almost remember the discussions” the men had about “money and power,” Semerdjian distinctly remembers “short transactions of cumin and scallions” and how his “uncle Jack…played such beautiful piano,” Semerdjian hid “under the bench” to “wait for him to strike the keys.”
Semerdjian tempers sentimental moments like these with an anthropological look at the psychological difficulties his immigrant elders faced after they arrived in America, specifically, their adjustment to suburban life after escaping ethnic cleansing. Yet as the poems intrigue the reader about details about the Armenian genocide (also called the Great Calamity), the horror is always under the surface, never actually exposed, leaving the reader frustrated. Yet, the effect is intentional. Semerdjian acknowledges this denial of the past by his grandparents and parents, describing the “silence” as “a vicious blade of memories.” The past is referred to but never directly addressed for fear of the pain it could inflict. Semerdjian masterfully reproduces the process of how these memories are suppressed in 'The Grandchildren of Genocide', but in describing the process of suppression he uncovers the worst memories. Semerdjian asserts
Semerdjian admits to thinking of “people” “in chambers” “climbing and crying, crying and climbing.” What is more telling is that Semerdjian admits not thinking about those people “being next to” his “grandfathers.” It is hard to admit to ones self that an adult they hold dear came close to death or that one’s life may have never happened if circumstances in the past had been slightly different. In acknowledging the sheer stroke of luck his grandfather had in the face of horror, Semerdjian makes In The Architecture of Bone a tribute to all of the people who suffered because of their ethnicity and applauds the strength of those who continued in their traditions in spite of being cut off from their home lands. K. T. MITCHELL is currently writing a novel of trangressive fiction while enjoting the pastoral scenery of San Joaquin Valley. To read her work in other genres, please go to www.ktmitchell.com. We think of bombfields and big when we think of genocide. We think of mass cleansing. We think in holes. We think the whole whole page. We think what’s under it, what they’ve been covering up. We think there might have been people in those whole pages.