Published: Friday March 6, 2009 in Poetry Matters
One of the magical aspects of poetry is that the art form creates the ability to employ the most imaginative moments in condensed and compact language. There are, of course, the followers of Walt Whitman who enjoy the long, operatic lines that reach almost the end of the right side of a page and then turn. There are also readers who want a poem to rhyme, to tell a story, or to simply scatter mismatched words on a page, as a painter would take colors and shapes to compose an abstract painting.
Poets who use the imagination to reveal more than what a poem seems to intend offer much to their readers. One of these poets is Armine Iknadossian, whose poems I have been reading for the past several years. I first heard about her poetry through a friend who had mailed me a poem of hers that was selected as a postcard poem from Writers at Work in Los Angeles. Then through various situations, I had the pleasure of reading more of her poems and this past year read her poem “Mourning Paper” on theArmenian Poetry Project blog by Lola Koundakjian.
After a night of weeping
I misread simple words,
mistake dust for lust, overlook
the bloated belly of the letter d.
This morning, every stroke of the alphabet
cringes or folds, hides itself
behind its bitter alter ego.
Today, profession is possession
as two s‘s merge, one selfishly
consuming the other.
Restful inevitably turns resentful.
And love is lose,
a consonant for a consonant,
an eye for an eye.
Satin turns into stain, a dyslexic
anagram, a failed romance.
I want to say more than anything
that kiss does not hiss,
that k‘s outstretched hand is not rejected.
The title itself suggests quite a bit. A play on the phrase “morning paper,” it already asks us to feel several things at once. We recall the feeling of the first words of the day, in our favorite newspaper, and at the same time, the choice of “Mourning” asks us to also consider some sort of lament or sadness. Of course, the first line emphasizes and supports the title’s tone by stating that the speaker experiences several moments of confusion “after a night of weeping.”
The second line of the poem introduces not only the topic of the poem, but also the extended metaphor that the poem will rely on and use with imagination and clever concoctions. The speaker “misread[s] simple words,” which is believable after a night of weeping.
Notice the creative, almost quiet, moments of this poem that build the extended metaphor as well as the tone. Iknadossian uses personification when the speaker “overlook[s] / the bloated belly of the letter d.” The personification is made more complex when we are told every letter of the alphabet “hides itself / behind its bitter alter ego.” Again, diction such as “bloated” and “bitter” follows the tone first established in the title while at the same time presenting the topic in a playful manner. These two opposing feelings side by side, the mourning tone, the playfulness of language, create the tension, and thus the vivacity of the poem.
The list of puns continues, as well as the tone. The speaker tells us “Today, profession is possession / as two s‘s merge, one selfishly / consuming the other.” While a word such as “profession” can connote a sense of freedom, it turns into “possession.” The choice of using “selfishly” further demands the negativity felt. Then, “Restful inevitably turns resentful. / And love is lose.” Iknadossian now masters this game of wordplay, these series of “dyslexic anagram[s].” Although we are informed of “a failed romance,” which may obviously be what the speaker is “mourning,” Iknadossian decides to create a surprise, a turn in the closing lines of the poem by suggesting that the speaker “want[s] to say more than anything / that kiss does not hiss, / that k‘s outstretched hand is not rejected.” Several things happen here at once. The two most important are the internal rhymes of “kiss” and “hiss” which create a musicality in the closing lines, thus changing the tonality, and again personification is used with the letter “k” which creates a pattern we can follow. Since the speaker insists that the letter’s hand is not “rejected,” this sentiment leaves us with a sense of hope instead of despair. In traditional elegies, although the poems mourn someone or some thing, they traditionally end on a symbol of hope. We can say that perhaps Iknadossian’s poem borrows from that tradition – here mourning the loss of love – but ending with a sense of possibility.
Iknadossian received her undergraduate degree with an emphasis in creative writing from UCLA. She earned a graduate degree in poetry from Antioch University. Her first manuscript, “Gnosis,” explores mythology from different female personas. She teaches English, journalism, and poetry recitation and has received two fellowships from Idyllwild Arts. Publications include Ararat Quarterly, Arbutus, Armenian Poetry Project, Backwards City Review, Lit Parlor, Lounge Lit: An Anthology, Media Cake, Poetic Diversity, Poetry Super Highway, Spout, Writers at Work, and Zaum.
I appreciate poems that experiment with language, which make us look at words in a different way. These types of poems don’t merely create word play out of a love for language, but also out of a necessity to communicate something deeper. They are poems that (excuse the pun) don’t “expire,” but “inspire.”