This is my talk at Frankfurt Book Fair, during panel discussion "Responsibility of Writing", organized by ARI Literary Foundation. Another two particiapants of the discussion were writers Armen of Armenia and Dato Turashvili.
POLITICAL STRENGTH OF LITERATURE
When they asked me to send a text for the flyer to be made for Frankfurt Book Fair, I chose one of my poems. It says:
I held a pistol in my hand
shot a bullet
I don’t know who I hit
but I definitely did not miss because suddenly
suddenly everyone and everything—
people, dogs, trees, and even inanimate things—
turned and looked at me
they all looked at me at the same time
while I stood frozen in my space
and I did not know what to do thereafter
I have chosen this text because it describes the situation in which I find myself as a writer. Well, I don’t mean of course that I have killed anybody )). I simply want to say—I have seen my words having power to act, to reach people, and now I am thinking—what is the main thing, the big thing I want to tell them.
In Armenia I am known by two identities: Marine Petrossian poet and Marine Petrossian columnist. In November 2006, during presentation of my poetry book called “On Armenian Seashore”, I read a text called “Armenian Project”—about the ways to create new Armenia. Nikol Pashinyan, who recently became prime minister of Armenia as the leader of Velvet Revolution, was then editor in chief of the main opposition newspaper “Haykakan Zhamanak”. Hаving read my text, he invited me to write for his newspaper as columnist. I wrote for Haykakan Zhamanak for three years—from 2007 to 2009. These were years of political uprising in Armenia. And my texts had very large readership. I knew this for sure because I saw my readers everywhere—on the streets, during the rallies, but also in shops, in cinemas, during the concerts, even in hospitals. People were approaching me and were telling me that in my texts they found their own dreams, dreams of new life, dreams of new Armenia. The uprising of 2008 was defeated then. But 10 years later, in 2018, it happened agаin, as Velvet revolution, and it succeeded. And now we are building new Armenia. Often, when I tell about all this to my friends out of Armenia—as I do it now — they ask me: Do you have any of these texts that you are speaking about translated into English, it would be interesting to read them. And I say—No, I don’t have any of them translated into English. Why? you may ask. Because these my texts that I speak about—my columns in Haykakan Zhamanak—they are written as political texts in certain social and political context and when you take them out of that context, they loose much of their power. That is why I do not translate them.
This is not the case with my poems. Quite the contrary: my poems, not being written as political texts, often turn out to have political connotation. I want to give an example to show you what I mean. Here is a poem:
What a nice seaport
what a sunny day
how lovely are the ships
and why is it none of them is mine?
don’t shoot me
if I pick one of these ships
and sail to play with white whales
do not be afraid no one will know
I will return the ship to the same place
come with me if you like
I have had several opportunities to read my texts for American audience. And this poem called “Hey Policeman” always got much attention. This year it was chosen as American famous Chicago Review’s online feature for April. My poem was published there with a very interesting commentary by Editors of Chicago Review. https://www.marinepetrossian.com/en/chicago-review-april- feature “Reading Petrossian’s poem from the South Side of Chicago”—this was a quote from the commentary —editors interpret my text as a revolutionary one, as a text having political message. This is a very interesting example and it speaks to the strength of literature.
As I have said already, in Armenia I am known by two identities: poet Marine Petrossian and columnist Marine Petrossian. Armenian TV stations mostly prefer the second one: Marine Petrossian who speaks on public issues. Well, poetry is not very popular in Armenia now. Unfortunately, this is the situation with poetry in most of the parts of the world. Despite this, I know for sure that poetry has a strength that political texts—in the narrow sense of the word—do not have: the strength to transcend time and space, to speak to every human being. And now I have decided to mix, to combine my two identities. I have stopped to write columns, instead, my poems recently became more political—in the larger sense of the word.
In the larger sense of the word, politics is about the ways to organize our life. If you look around you will see that almost every country is in political crisis now. And the world as a whole is in political crisis. Crisis means that something has ended and something new has to start. What is it that will come instead of the old world? We do not know yet. Has poetry any connection with this? Sure it has. In the beginning was the word, and every new thing starts with new words, first you have new words then they become new things.
I was born in Soviet Union, a country that was created in order to build a now social system, to build communism. When I was born it was already the end of it, it was evident for everybody that the experiment of building communism had failed. I was born in the Soviet Union and I saw the destruction of it. Now I live in a country that was created in the result of Soviet Unions destruction. I live in a capitalistic country. Well, my country is a new country, not at all rich one. But I have been in many other capitalistic countries, I have been many times in the United States — the most rich and powerful country of the world. And I see that despite the fact that the country is really rich, really prosperous, there are many problems there. And despite the fact that people in the richest country of the world have freedom of speech, freedom of movement and many other freedoms, actually when I see how they live I cannot say they are free in their lives. They are too busy with earning money, and when you are too busy with earning money, you can not be actually free. Even if you are rich. This is a big problem, it seems to me—this is the main problem of contemporary world.
And here is a poem I want to read for you—very much connected with what I just said, about richness, money, prosperity and freedom.
Why is everyone running?
there is no one to talk to
we dug so many canals
we planted so many trees
we built so many cities
but again people are hungry
they run to make money
the richer the country is
the faster they run
with every coming day
faster and faster they run
there is no one to talk to