Tatev Chakhian

- Armenia -

an Armenian poet and visual artist, was born in Yerevan in 1992. She currently lives in Poland. In 2014, Tatev became one of the winners of the Dionizy Maliszewski Literary Competition organized in Ostrołęka, and in 2016, she was granted the prize of the Gazeta Obywatelska biweekly. She also won the Literary Award of the First Lady of Armenia, as well as Sahak Partev – a prize granted by the Catholic Church in Armenia. Tatev participated in Poeziefestival Berlin 2012 and the 2013 Literary Ark festival. In her works, the artist combines poetry with visual arts. Her paper collages were exhibited in Armenia and Brussels. Tatev cooperates with city activists, sculptors, film-makers, and musicians. She graduated from cultural anthropology at the State University in Yerevan; her academic interests include the semiotics of the city, “reading” the city as a text. Tatev is an editor of an internet magazine called iranliter.com, which focuses on the presentation of translations of contemporary Iranian poetry; she works as a teacher, editor, and translator. Her poems have been translated into English, German, Polish, Persian, and Russian, and were published in many anthologies and magazines. In 2016, she published her first book of poetry entitled Dowód (nie)osobisty ((Non)-Identity Card). The book has been nominated for the 2018 European Poet of Freedom – the 5th edition of the Literary Award of the City of Gdansk.

The most moving poems from this book originate from Tatev’s experience of the phenomenon of a “muddy lake surrounded by the mountains”, i.e. her own ethnic and cultural identity. Through boredom, through the “tiredness with freedom”, it is endangered by the breakup of internal forms of its experience and its daily setup as well as the intrusion of hostile forces; hence there is frequent mentions of fight, wars, and the necessity of defense. This, however, is neither black and white nor unambiguous to the young poet: she remembers about the Armenian Genocide, but does not call for revenge. The thought about war seems to be alien or even disgusting to her – she has seen through the rituals of its beginnings – as in the poem Zły montaż (Poor Montage), in which bored fathers “go to fight for fun with other fathers”.

In Tatev Chakhian’s poems, the personal becomes a profession of political belief. And the other way round: the political spirit changes into lyricism, intimacy; it can clearly be seen how important the commenting on social life is for the protagonist: as if there was no other life other than this one. Privacy is entirely dissolved in thinking about the society, the community, on behalf of which one speaks. In this sense, the writing of a poem is an act of service, it is to support and reinforce. “When life is too difficult/ divide/ it/ into/ lines/ to make it easy to live”. Poetry in this convention is like air, filling the empty space of the ailing life. It accompanies those who are alive, making existence more bearable, it does not leave the dead, thus making it easier for them to go to the other side. It also has its impact on the reading of tradition, the interpretation of history, and in particular its dark, tragic fragments. The writing of a poem may in some way facilitate the understanding of the history of one’s own nation, and alleviate the related pain. “If you can't find a way to speak of genocide,/ of long-gone motherland and enemy,/ write a poem immediately,/ so that the textbook of History could be understood easily”.

The sense of some primeval threat casts a sinister shadow on some of Tatev’s poems. This can be best seen in the slightly humorous and grotesque work entitled Obwód zamknięty (Closed Circuit). The author only seemingly plays with motifs originating from Kafka. In reality, she wants to express the real atmosphere of social life, its daily absurdity ritually worked with pious reverence by the mass media. Demands for games (circuses), their permanent presence, collide with the budget – oriented towards military expenditure. Therefore, politicians decide to help the nation, moving the means designated for defense for the purposes of entertainment (the construction of a circus). “But suddenly, the war comes back/ and the construction is discontinued”. Between the construction and entertainment – here comes a picture of the political mechanisms that are abbreviated to a metaphor. The punch line of the poem brings associations with the best poetry: allegorical and philosophical. And there even appears a thought as from what experience such an insightful wisdom is born: “It is in this way, during the truce,/ each new generation,/ together with snakes, bears, and tigers,/ fighting for the right to have a circus,/ stumping noisily, drowns out the sound of the silenced bullets”.

Some of the texts explore an important thread: impatience or tiredness with being on the list of predictable social gestures, irritation with the constant being an extra in political games, in films ineptly made by manipulators and poseurs. Here, two poems in particular draw our attention: Symulakrum czy nude beach (Simulacrum or nude beach) and Noc z soboty na niedzielę (The Night from Saturday to Sunday). The former is almost a model manual of the daily cornering of individuals by symbolic higher bodies, by politics and religion. The poet asks whether it is still at all possible to “take care of ourselves”, since our awareness is filled with contents brutally imposed by the external world, and the illusion of their – presidential, papal or other – significance seems to dominate. We are taking care of (or we are ceremoniously, institutionally taken care of) everything but ourselves. In fact, Tatev Chakhian is asking how to be oneself and whether – in the essential, individual sense – we actually exist. Perhaps we are only signs on the map of the social division of powers, means, and influences. We can find a similar thought or, to be more precise, a postulate, in the second poem. It is a request for one’s personal, individual freedom. The protagonist is asking to be left alone, within herself, while she can still feel and identify this “selfness”. She is asking to be “deleted from the list of the living”, because she wants to live in a different way and in a different place, in her inner world, in the language of desires, and dreams.


By Karol Maliszewski