poet: Shekoyan challenges convention with
his street style .
As freedom of artistic expression toddles its
way toward maturity in Armenia, philosophical
clashes arise between traditionalists and those
inclined to break barriers.
The clash between the familiar (and therefore
the accepted) and the uneasy unexpected finds
expression in art and in literature: Some bookstores
stopped selling a new Armenian novel because it
was deemed too racy.
In the world of poetry, Armen Shekoyan is also
Shekoyan is the only poet whose work is being
published in newspapers (originally in "Aravot"
and now "Haikakan Zhamanak").
His second book of verses "Hotel Yerevan"
came out in July, after first being printed in
the daily newspapers.
And while he may be gaining an unexpected audience
through the newspapers, he is getting expected
criticism from literary circles, where his style
is largely disregarded as something less than
Armenian intellectual circles have worked within
their own universe where only eternal topics of
ideological orientation or conformed ethics are
allowed to exist. "Literature" must
be full of invented images, to aim at aesthetic
perfection, to look for new shapes and to be written
in language acceptable to literary mores.
It is not a universe that allows room for evolution,
and in the case of poetry, much new work ends
up being read only by other poets.
The vehicle of newspapers has made Shekoyan an
exception, as he is now read by layers of society
that include lovers of literature as well as those
who haven't read a poem since they were students.
Shekoyan does not look for new shapes, as far
as all the shapes are impoverished. Nor does he
touch upon everlasting themes as far as eternities
also have their end.
He is, though, infusing personal application into
contemporary, impersonal attitudes and conventions.
"I am neither dashnak, nor revanchist, I
am neither democrat nor fascist, but these processes
affect us, because we want to live as human beings,"
In his writing he mixes lofty style with colloquial
forms and street language.
His literary manner, mixing jargon with traditional
styles and even sometimes Old Armenian (Grabar)
gives some defiance to the uncertainty and unfairness
of the Armenia life (morality is alien to him,
but is typical for Armenian literature).
"Where Mouse Valod became a cop and Bear
Valod became a beggar; where the flat-footed became
a person and NA deputy and he has a rich repatriate
wife, cell phone and mandate."
And: "We are not here to whine because of
our brother's betrayal"
". . . my tears are still streaming down
by themselves . . ."
"I am getting satisfied with my shaky self
For centuries, poets have held a revered position.
And they themselves encourage such respect. Armenian
poet Paruir Sevak even wrote a poem referring
to himself as "God's Secretary." While
such praise has subsided in Western countries,
in Armenia poets still consider themselves among
Armenians have revered their poets as the chosen
of God. And in their turn, poets and self-enamored
dilettantes have reacted with divine rhythms and
eternal, other-worldly themes and language.
But Shekoyan maintains that all the people are
equal and he disdains concepts of everlasting
things or ideas. He takes an egalitarian approach
whether the subject is street prostitutes, football
or political elections. And in all of it, irony
is a featured instrument.
Condensing the history of Armenia in the past
10 years, he wrote:
Cool lads, who entered
And the rest demand procedure.
The rest, who stand on the street
Are in business and are called
The rest, who are called cops
Are on the same streets
The most often used manner of Shekoyan is transforming
classic poetry texts into modern parodies. For
instance, in his pervious book Shekoyan took Goethe's
verse "The Rose":
"A little boy saw a 600 (Mercedes)
he saw 600 in the yard
. . . a boy said I will drive you 600,
you 600 standing in the yard.
600 replied, I will stand you up
because I am 600 of Kond's (a poor district in
He gives a similar treatment to Vahan Teryan's
line concerning the everlasting homeland: "Assyrians
were our enemies, and there is a valley where
no stone standing." Shekoyan took the verse
and applied it to his childhood yard, considering
neighboring Krivoj (crooked) yard as hostile one,
where recently Grigor Lusavorich's church has
been built: "Krivoj was our enemy, and there
is a church on its place now and there is no stone
published "Yerevan Hotel" after
the poems first appeared in newspapers.
And Teryan's verse, reflecting the tragedy of
the last century -- "Am I the last poet,
the last singer of my country?" - Shekoyan
turns into a contemporary comment using singer
"Are you the last poet, Simonyan Tata?"
So, he "anoints" singer Tata the poet,
who is representative of the intelligentsia's
hated genre, rabiz, and delivers another blow
to reigning fossilized conceptions of poetry.
He called a previous book "Anti-Poetry",
which describes his new style.
Shekoyan is 50 years old, and before he adopted
the "anti-poetry" style, he published
nine books written in "poetry". In his
last book, in his "Anti-Poetry" poem,
he says that his talent has disappeared and "no
skilled speech therapist can bring it back".
References to common places in Yerevan might
never draw the attention of classical poets, but
are the foundation for "anti-poetry".
Nor would Shekoyan's language find a place in
the market of intelligentsia literature.
It is anti-poetry, when the artist goes to Yerevan
bingo with Pavarotti and Domingo but "the
one, who shouted bingo was our lost brother Carreras
sitting in the first row".
And anti-poetry is political irony in which the
poet's target is the President and fraud in the
recent presidential elections: "I would have
elected Geghamyan (damn, I love his big heart)
but I've elected Robert for 5000 drams".
And anti-poetry is mocking political enmity:
"I can be like Charents and Marshak but I
can't reconcile Vano and Arshak (representative
of former authorities Vano Siradeghyan and opposition
deputy Arshak Sadoyan)".
And the biggest anti-poetry is his "Yerevan
Hotel" poem in which appear the names of
846 people. The peculiarity of all people, mentioned
there, is that "they know me".
The poem filled two pages of "Haikakan Zhamanak"
newspaper. One of the poem's characters prepared
a feast for the author afterwards; another writer
took offense because his name was not included.
That issue of the newspaper became very popular,
as many people, including the literary community,
were looking for their names in the poem.
The poem links an ex-President with a Russian
poet, with thieves and intellectuals, drivers
and his book sponsor, and so on.
Slogans of revolutions, liberty, fraternity and
equality, which have never been put into practice,
are realized in "Yerevan Hotel". While
reading the poem one can notice only for a moment
that all those people with their enmities, religious,
political and social contradictions became equal
and became reconciled with each other and fraternized
in the love of Shekoyan.
"I love you and this life until the president
interposes his veto," the poet writes.