Paying Tribute to Diana Der Hovanessian

Diana Der Hovanessian

Paying Tribute To Diana Der Hovanessian

ARLINGTON, Mass. — On the afternoon of November 4, the award-winning late poet Diana Der Hovanessian was feted at the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF) by an enthusiastic audience of about 150 people in the manner that she would have appreciated: through poetry, family, food and friendship.

An array of people from Diana’s life as a friend, mother, aunt and fellow poet recited her poems while sharing stories about her warmth, hospitality and simultaneous love for her Armenian heritage and her cosmopolitan outlook.

Opening remarks were provided by ACF President Robert Mirak, who praised her for impeccable judgement and taste as a poet.

He also recalled that the ACF had honored her in that very room in 1999.

Dr. Robert Mirak (Aram Arkun photo)

Der-Hovanessian, who during her life championed Armenian poetry, poems dear to her father — works by Daniel Varoujan, Vahan Tekeyan and Siamanto — as well as new poets, died in March at age 83.

She was the author of 30 books of poetry and translations, several plays, and twice was a Fulbright professor of American Poetry. She received awards from NEA, Poetry Society of America, PEN/Columbia Translation Center, National Writers Union, Armenian Writers Union, Paterson Poetry Center, Prairie Schooner, American Scholar, the Armenian Ministry of Culture, and many others too numerous to list. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Agni, Nation, the New York Times, CDM and the Paris Review. She was a graduate of Boston University and did graduate work at Harvard. She worked as a poet in the Massachusetts schools and frequently lectured on Armenian poetry in translation, and the literature of human rights at various universities both here and abroad.

After Marc Mamigonian of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) recited her poem “Salt,” Mary Buchinger, president of the New England Poetry Club, recalled the sharp wit of Der Hovanessian, the longtime president of the New England Poetry Club, noting that when decades earlier, upon joining the group she had been asked to take the role of secretary. She had retorted, “I don’t do shorthand.” Instead she headed the organization, founded by Amy Lowell, Robert Frost and Conrad Aiken in Cambridge in 1915, for three decades.

Mary Buchinger (Aram Arkun photo)

“Diana led with a broad vision,” Buchinger said. “She invited international poets and established a poetry prize. She walked by Longfellow’s House [in Cambridge] and had the idea to bring poetry to the old poet’s house.”

She helped start the longest poetry reading series in the country and in the meantime invited three Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer winners to the series.

Buchinger also praised the “renowned hospitality” of Der Hovanessian, always creating “an elegant table she generously set with aromatic Armenian dishes.”

“Her stamp on this institution is everlasting,” she concluded.

Regie Gibson (Aram Arkun photo)

Poet Regie Gibson recited “Brat” and “Lot’s Wife.” “She was one of the first poets I had the chance to meet her when I came here from Chicago,” he said, noting that she was welcoming and encouraging.

The role of poetry, he explained, is to ask about feelings, understanding, “human to human, human to self and human to culture.”

Gibson later  recited “Summer Street, Worcester” and “This Is for Zarif.” In the former, she captures her feelings as a child who could not speak English mixing with the neighborhood children in Worcester. In the latter, she paid homage to a mother who refused to give up information about her son during the Armenian Genocide even when tortured brutally.

Vivian Shipley, editor of the award-winning Connecticut Review, and Connecticut State University Distinguished Professor at Southern Connecticut State University, added yet another facet to Der Hovanessian.

Vivian Shipley (Aram Arkun photo)

“We had known each other for 40 years. She always insisted on cooking and made very elaborate meals. Diana understood that food was not just food but love,” she noted.

She also said that the late poet wanted to “raise her voice for all the people suffering who are persecuted.” She added, “We all walk in Diana’s light.”

Then, changing the narrative, she added that both she and Der Hovanessian were tremendous fans of Porsches. “We shared a love for speed and fast cars,” she said. “She had an impish sense of humor.”

Ani Arakelians, an Iranian-born Armenian computer programmer and business analyst who is in demand for her eloquent, soulful recitations of poetry in Armenian, recited four of Der Hovanessian’s poems that had been translated from English in Armenia.

Award winning writer and poet Askold Melnyczuk, founding editor of the Boston-based literary publication Agni and director of the Masters in Fine Arts Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, spoke about the late poet’s championing of the works of long-dead Armenian poets, whose names and sentiments were familiar to generations hundreds of years later and a continent away, “thanks to the genius of a Cantabrigian named Diana Der Hovanessian. … Diana was utterly of her time and [yet] carried lives from the past,” he said.

He stressed the importance of her particular skill, translating, suggesting that “good translators go unrecognized” but that “thanks to her, the New England Poetry Club become the most cosmopolitan” of its kind in the country.

“There are so many ways in which she was singular in the literary world,” he added.

The honoree’s daughter, Maro Dalley, looking striking like the late poet whose large photo was placed behind the dais, spoke of how Der Hovanessian was “just mommy to my sister and me.” She joked she thought as a child that banging on a typewriter and later on a computer keyboard at all hours of the night “was something all mommies do.”

Dr. Barbara Merguerian (Aram Arkun photo)

She recited her poems “Daughter” and “At Twilight,” the latter about Der Hovanessian calling her daughters, Maro and Sona, home at twilight.

“Through them, we can still see with her eyes,” she said.

Historian, co-founder of the Armenian International Women’s Association and former editor of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, Dr. Barbara Merguerian took to the stage to share memories of Der Hovanessian and also invited others to share memories of the poet.

She recalled that she first came across Der Hovanessian on the pages of the Christian Science Monitor and she invited her often to write for the Mirror-Spectator.

She recalled Der Hovanessian’s generosity when the late poet invited her to have lunch with her and William Saroyan when the late novelist was visiting her home in Cambridge.

“She was so open and so gracious,” Merguerian noted.

Later AIWA published her poetry collection The Other Voice: Armenian Women’s Poetry Through the Ages, in 2005.

“You couldn’t help respect who she was. Her loss is a tremendous one for so many of us,” she concluded.

Several people got up and spoke about her and how she had touched their loves, including her nephew, Anthony Pahigian.

In addition, a video clip was shown of a choral performance of her poem “Shifting the Sun,”set  to music composed by Lee Kesselman.

In addition to the speakers, there were several tributes printed in the expanded program book, including from Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia and the board of the Writers’ Union of Armenia. All the poems recited were included in the booklet, as were biographical information about her, the extensive list of her publications as well as her awards.

The program was organized by the ACF, the New England Poetry Club, and co-sponsored by the Amaras Art Alliance, the New England chapter of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, Armenian International Women’s Association, Armenian Museum of America, the Friends of the Longfellow House, Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society, NAASR and the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the US and Canada.

A reception followed.

Yusef Komunyakaa, Golden Rose Award 2018

Yusef Komunyakaa with Laren McClung and members of the Board of NEPC Left to right: Linda Haviland Conte, Treasurer; Marjorie Thomsen, Programming Chair; Yusef Komunyakaa, Mary Buchinger, President; Ralph Pennel, Membership Chair; Laren McClung; Hilary Sallick, Vice President (Board Members not in photo: Wendy Drexler, Programming Chair, and Jennifer Markell, Membership Chair)

Lines by Heart: Physicians and Poetry

Award-winning poets and physicians Drs. Glenn Colquhoun and Rafael Campo explore the tremulous terrain of the doctor-patient relationship as they illuminate the richly human search for meaning in the face of mortality.Dr. Rafaeil Campo teaches and practices at Harvard Medical School, where he directs the Arts and Humanities Initiative’s Literature and Writing Program. Author of eight highly acclaimed books, he is the recipient of the National Poetry Series award among many others.

Glenn Colquhoun is a poet and children’s writer. He has written award-winning books on poetry and four children’s books.

Regie Gibson, July 1, 3 pm, Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters

Come experience the musings of literarymusician and educator, Regie Gibson!

Literaryperformer, educator & former National Poetry Slam Champion, Regie Gibson, has lectured & performed in the U.S., Cuba & Europe. Representing the U.S., Regie competed for & received the Absolute Poetry Award in Monfalcone, Italy. Himself & his work appear in “love jones”: a feature-film based on events in his life. He has featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, WBUR’s On Point, Radio Boston, & other NPR programs. Regie has presented at several TED X events & has been nominated for a Boston Emmy. He’s served as a consultant for both the National Endowment for the Arts “How Art Works” initiative & the “Mere Distinction of Color”: an exhibit at James Madison’s Montpelier, examining the legacy of slavery and the U.S. constitution. Regie has performed with, & composed texts for, The Boston City Singers, The Mystic Chorale & the Handel+Haydn Society & has been published in Poetry Magazine, Harvard’s Divinity Magazine, and The Iowa Review, among others. His volume of poems, “Storms Beneath the Skin” won the Golden Pen Award.

He is a recipient of the Walker Scholarship for Poetry from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, a YMCA Community Writer’s Fellowship, the Lexington Education Foundation Grant, a Massachusetts Cultural Council Award & is a recent recipient of a 2017 Brother Thomas Fellowship for Artistic Excellence from The Boston Foundation. Regie teaches at Grub Street, Clark University, is part of the Emerson College Summer Faculty & is both Poet-in-Residence for Mass Poetry & head instructor for the Mass Poetry “Poets in the Schools Program” accredited through Lesley University. When not teaching, he is the lead singer for Atlas Soul: A world music, global funk ensemble & is Artistic Director of Shakespeare to Hiphop’s “Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy”: a multimedia performance focusing on the life, works & influence of William Shakespeare.

Free and open to the public.


NEPC Member Paula Bonnell’s poem chosen for display in Boston City Hall

Congratulations to Paula Bonnell whose poem,”The Sun’s Progress,” is one of 18 poems chosen by the City of Boston’s Arts Department in its annual contest. This year’s theme is Diverse Neighborhoods. On May 3 a reading hosted by Boston’s Poet Laureate Danielle Legros Georges was held at City Hall and the next day 18 plaques, each containing one of the poems, were posted near the elevators in City Hall for the coming year.

NEPC Member Doug Holder @ Leonard Bernstein Festival, Brandeis University

NEPC Member Doug Holder was on a panel at Brandeis University Leonard Bernstein Festival (APRIL 17)
Panel included Lisa Krissof Beohn, dean of graduate studies, Bridgewater State University; Elizabeth Bradfield (Creative Writing); Doug Holder, managing editor of Ibbetson Press; editor Anita McClellan; and Sarah Mead (Music). Moderator: Rosie Rosenzweig (WSRC). Sponsored by the Women’s Studies Research Center.