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Review: Whispers and Breath of the Meadows, by Razmik Davoyan

Paul McDonald, Envoi 158 January 2011

from the article Fitting into the Universe?

Whispers and Breath of the Meadows is the latest in Arc's brilliant Visible Poets series, designed, in the words of the general editor, Jean Boase-Beier, to enrich our poetry with the very best work that has appeared elsewhere in the world. Having read several in the series, my view is that it's doing an excellent job. Davoyan is Armenia's best known poet and he has had a long and distinguished career - this book collects together a representative sample from his early years to the present. Despite the cultural differences, for the most part Davoyan speaks with a note that is often familiar. Lovers of America romanticism will recognise the occasionally Whitmanesque tone of poems like Requiem:

And with the golden hands of dawn,
Opened our eyes
Closed before the blue darkness
And pouring down like a flood
And ebbing like the darkness of starless nights,
The world filled
Our eyes
From all sides.
The flood poured
Towards the uninhabited boundlessness of our souls,
Towards the enfolding distance of our hearts -
It poured with a careless beauty,
And with beauty alone.

Sadly the collection can only include extracts from this epic (10,000 line) poem, but it is enough to convey the spirit of the piece. The repetition and the unrestrained, celebratory style are reminiscent of Whitman, as is the theme of spiritual interconnectedness. Elsewhere he sounds like Whitman's 20th century incarnation, Allen Ginsberg, particularly in the very Beat-like Some Wishes Which Sprang Out Spontaneously in Manhattan, New York, in 1979:

Blessed be the houses
Over which the guarding red light hasn't yet
Been thrust
As a bloodthirsty alarm
For the plane
That blind, giant bird flying in the dark
Not suddenly to strike a dark fate
And explode as some shattered memory...

As W.N. Herbert suggests in his Introduction, these words could be considered prescient given the events of 9/11. But the troubling portents are countered by a spiritual dimension; there are references to signs of the divine

That make you feel
That life is paradise
And the Creator
After long years of negligence
Has suddenly thought of us.

Though he talks of a Creator, Davoyan's spiritual preoccupations seem pan, rather than monotheistic. His work is pervaded by images of spiritual unity (God in everyone and everything), and his desire to explore the notion of spiritual communion often involves the negation of the self. He is forever imagining himself as part of the exterior world: merging into it, as in Requiem

We are of earth
We are in the earth

or in Creation

I embrace the tree until
The bounds disappear
between the tree and me

or in Storm, where he rushes To vanish voluntarily / In the wide freedom of the sea. Davoyan's poems are occasionally hard work, but he has a clear sense of how he fits into the universe, and he reiterates his vision again and again in poems full of spiritual striving, and passion. I loved them.