CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (19): Silva Zanoyan Merjanian, Borrowed Sugar Borrowed Time – from war-torn Lebanon to peace in California
Silva Zanoyan Merjanian is an Armenian ethnic who was born in Lebanon. She escaped the civil war there and lived for a time in Geneva, ultimately settling to build a family life in California. Silva has two published collections. Most recently Rumor (Cold Water Press, 2015), which received the Best Book Award from NABE in the 2015. Three poems from Rumor were nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Silva’s first collection is Uncoil a Night (CreateSpace, 2013).
In rind of wishes sticky on lips
and sermons’ echo on facepsalms slipping
in envies squirted on spruce and cedar
whims twirling, spiraled, speckled
gossamer visions of friendships withered
in crevices of an upbeat mien
Your name hidden in prayer embers
I mend among buds of poems
flying on a trapeze
with no one at the other end
Rumor is a stunning tour de force of passionate, life-affirming poetry. Silva Merjanian evokes time and place with both grace and authority. Poetry is obviously a tool for her own healing and in that she brings us face to face with the human condition in all its complexity, beautiful and loving and devastating cruel, and she does so totally without pretension.
Poems half written and done
Poems between toes and toast
‘Round Midnight and Monk
Thoughts that glow in the light
Always, in absence of rats and such
fresh sheets and I
between over and under
from Between the Sheets
She writes with immediacy of war:
bounce of gold crosses between breasts
colorful hijabs ’round others’ bare face
friendships seeded in borrowed sugar, borrowed time
she, unaware of borrowed wailers on their way
makes plans on a sunny balcony as she hangs
her blue jeans on a clothesline
moments before war drums ripple through crisp calm
from Borrowed Sugar Borrowed Time
JAMIE: Silva, Rumor is a remarkable collection with many poems that stay with one. It’s also quite generous of you to donate proceeds to the Syrian-Amenian Relief Fund (SARF). How are sales going and how is the fundraising?
SILVA: Thank you Jamie. I did not have an event or a formal fundraising with Rumor. The sales were a result of readings, speeches, word of mouth and some ads in newspapers and on Facebook. In July there will be an ad for it in Poets & Writers and it will also be included in five book fairs this summer.
My publisher, Dave Boles of Cold River Press, will release the e-book version soon. He is kind enough to donate all proceeds from the e-book also to the SARF. So with all these developments I expect a boost in sales.
JAMIE: When did you fall in love with poetry? When did you realize you are a poet?
SILVA: I am a late bloomer. I started writing in 2011 and my first book was released in 2013. Even though we grew up with the poetry of Shakespeare, Keats, etc.. and many Armenian poets, the thought of writing poetry hadn’t occurred to me. My education is in Business Administration not Fine Art. It was almost like catching the bug of poetry, very unexpected, once I started writing I couldn’t stop. I didn’t write to be published at first, it was just for the pleasure of it, later when I saw friends publishing books, the idea came to me to publish and make it count for something by donating the proceeds.
JAMIE: What are the reactions to your work that surprise you most?
SILVA: I didn’t expect the level of appreciation for my poetry that I received. Especially from those who themselves write and/or are well read in poetry. I have to thank the Irish first for this recognition. They have such talented poets and they recognized my potential first.
I also didn’t expect the difficulty to be accepted as a writer in the Armenian community. It was almost like they waited for me to be respected in the foreign circles before they’d acknowledge me, instead of reading my work and appreciating it themselves. I am disappointed in that respect.
JAMIE: Tell us something about your travels: How did your family arrive in Lebanon and why did they move from there. How did you end up in the U.S.?
SILVA: My grandparents had to flee their homes twice, trying to survive the Armenian Genocide. If you are familiar with the book The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Austrian -Bohemian writer Franz Werfel, first published in German in 1933, it is the story of my grandparents. The French helped the population of seven villages escape and relocate as refugees in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. So my grandparents did live under refugee tents for a whole year. Now the area is a buzzing town with three churches and schools and commerce.
I left Lebanon after experiencing eight years of the civil war*. Geneva was the city I healed from the war scars. Later I settled in California to raise my sons with my husband.
JAMIE: What do you think most Westerners don’t understand about the Middle East? What do you know and understand that you would like everyone to know?
SILVA: What most don’t understand about Lebanon, and to a degree parts of the Middle East, is that the vast majority of the people are just the nicest fun loving, peace loving, hard working families. They want for their children everything an American family wants. The number of innocent people who are collateral damage to the events in that part of the world is just heartbreaking.
JAMIE: I understand that your brother is a novelist. Does your family have a history of poets and writers?
SILVA: My brother has two volumes of poetry in Armenian. He is writing his third novel. I am not aware of anyone else in my family who has published books, except a volume of translations by my father.
JAMIE: You have two well-received collections completed. Where to now?
SILVA: That’s a question I’ve been asking myself. I think I will keep writing and hope a third book will be in the future for me.
* Lebanese Civil War – 1975-1990
© 2016, portrait, poems, bookcover art and responses to questions, Silva Merjanian, All rights reserved