Monday, May 20, 2019


This week, my friends, we are visiting with Ayala Zarfjian, who leads A Sun-Kissed Life, in Florida.  Ayala’s book, Second Chances, came out recently, so we wanted to help her spread the word. Let’s not wait another minute. I am eager to hear about the new book!

Sherry: We last spoke with you in 2017, when you were celebrating the birth of your grandson, Aiden. He must bring your family so much joy!

Ayala and Aiden

Ayala: Aiden brings us light and immeasurable joy. When he walks through the door, I forget whatever it is that I am struggling with in that moment. I love to see things through his eyes. It's magic. 

Sherry: It is magical, to see the world brand new through a child’s eyes. It’s the best!

A little bird told me you have something new to celebrate now. Tell us about your new book, published recently by Golden Dragonfly Press.

Ayala: My book is a collection of poems, new and old. It is a meaningful collection for me, and all the proceeds of the sale of the book are being donated to charity.

Sherry: That is lovely, Ayala. Congratulations on your publication. Let’s take a peek at the video launching your book. It is beautiful.

Sherry: This is such a beautiful poem, and video. Wow.

I remember from our first interview, that you began writing poetry at age eight, and that your father was a poet. I remember, too, you saying “I didn’t choose poetry; poetry chose me.”  It must feel wonderful to hold that book in your hands! Tell us about that feeling, and about the process of putting it together.

Ayala: The process of putting together the book was a thoughtful one and one with many details. For example, the book cover is a photograph that I took one day when I was walking with my son, Daniel. I noticed the root of a tree in a heart shape. My poems are all about family, roots and love, so I found it a perfect choice for my cover.

There were many details, and I was very hands on because it means so much to me. I have to admit that I was beyond excited when I held my book for the first time. It's a wonderful feeling to hold your own book that you poured your soul into. So Sherry, yes, poetry chose me. I was a thoughtful little girl that carried the world on her shoulders. There was always poetry brewing up in my thoughts, no matter what path I traveled on.

Sherry: A journey made with poetry is such a gift! Would you like to share three poems with us today and tell us a little about each?

The city I was born in, 
my mother’s maiden name, 
the street I lived on. 
answers that do not warrant hesitation, 
black and white,
nice and easy. 
But what if I forget one day, 
my first pet’s name, 
my high school boyfriend,
and finding the love of my life. 
What if it slips away, 
like an oar in the river, 
like water through my fingers,
like all the yesterdays 
built by moments of you and me. 
Holding hands, 
speaking with our loud voices
at the spark of anger, 
dancing in the kitchen,
our laughter echoes in our home.
side by side at dawn, 
our feet tangled 
in a mess of love,
what if I forget?

I wrote this poem one day when I answered security questions for a financial institution. I remember choosing questions that I assumed I would not forget. Prior to that day I spoke to someone that was a caregiver to someone with dementia. I was saddened at how this illness robs their patients of their memories.  

The next poem I wrote about my husband and his grandpa to commentate one hundred years since the Armenian genocide. It's important to remember because the genocide is still being denied by Turkey.

On both our sides we share a sense of loss and pride for our families. Mine survived the Holocaust and my husband's grandfather survived the Armenian genocide. He also saved a train of children. At the time, he was a child himself.  

In 1987, Chancellor Helmut Kohl told Israeli President Chaim Herzog that the Nazi extermination of six million Jews will never be purged from history. He said the German people accept responsibility for the Holocaust. The Armenian people are still waiting for Turkey to take responsibility for the Armenian genocide. 1.5 million Armenians were murdered.

This poem is called “One Hundred Years” and it's dedicated to Grandpa Antranik. 

Coal black sky,
awakens repressed memories.
Whispers of angels silenced.
You are not forgotten,
the moon watched 
while humanity looked away,
one hundred years of denial.
I stood beside you as a boy,
and as a man I carry you in my heart.
Your kind but dark eyes,
pieced my consciousness with
stories of your plight,
living in a cave,
marching in the desert,
eating weeds and plants.
You were a baby boy orphaned,
grief held your hand.
You were too young to remember
your mother's love
your mother's embrace.
The emptiness,
and the sadness lingered.
The oppressors sought to destroy,
they sought deportation,
The oppressors wished
to erase you
and our bloodline.
One hundred years of denial,
echo like whispers,
reverberate from the earth
of those that perished.
You survived
to flourish
you survived 
to tell your story
the darkness always in the shadows
 of each day.
I remember.
your words are not forgotten,
I retell my children of those dark days,
of their legacy,
of survival rich with
honor of your life.
I stood beside you as a child,
as a man I carry you in my heart.

On a lighter note, the next poem is called “Woman”. 

I discovered the crows feet
nestled by my eyes.
I forgave them and accepted
them to be mine.
I love that they exhibit
a piece of my struggle.
Days I squinted in delight,
dark nights when weeping
left me drained and numb.
I questioned the veins in my hands,
pronounced and deep,
then I accepted them
for all the hard labor they had done.
Hands weathered by love given,
days from dawn to dusk,
babies they had washed,
foreheads caressed.
I watched my white strands 
residing in my dark hair. 
I accepted them for their resilience
and beauty.
I challenged my mind to battle the known
and seek the wonder of the unknown.
I challenged my soul to rise up
and embrace the woman
I have become
and love the life I have been given.

This poem is about acceptance of oneself. My women friends, my girl tribe, has always been judgmental of their looks, their choices and getting older. I urge them to accept themselves, to love themselves, to be proud of all that they have achieved as strong women. Some are mothers, partners, sisters, daughters, friends, and they have lifted humanity by being exactly who they were meant to be. 

Sherry: These are wonderful poems. I am especially moved by the one to your husband’s grandfather, the thought of that small orphan crossing the desert, eating weeds and plants. And the pain that such journeys are still going on, in so many places, today. Your poem shows the power of poetry to inform, and to move hearts and minds.

What do you love about poetry, Ayala?

Ayala: Poetry is life. 

Poetry is life

Sherry: “Poetry is life”. I love that! What other interests do you explore when you aren’t writing?

Ayala: I love to spend time with my family. I love to travel, read, meditate, fish. When I travel, I love to explore museums. Art evokes a sense of joy and peace. As a child I spent endless days in museums with my parents.  Museums feel like home to me and being in them gives me a sense of connection to something bigger.

Sherry: Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

Ayala: Thank you for your community, thank you for your support. Over the years I have connected with some of you, the connection grew into friendships that I will treasure always.

Sherry: Thank you for this update, Ayala. It is fun watching Aiden grow up in these visits with you (and on facebook!) Congratulations once again on the publication of your book.

Well, my friends, isn't it wonderful to watch our poet friends making their poetic journeys through the years? Do come back and see who we talk to next. I will give you a clue: it is one of our very first members, chatting with us about how to write a poem when you're blocked. I can't wait!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Poetry Pantry #480

The Tofino Botanical Gardens,
twelve acres of beauty, old-growth
and gardens on the West Coast
of Vancouver Island, Canada

I love the peaceful Beings
that welcome us to the gardens

One of my favourite structures

This wooden heron is a favourite of mine.
I would love to have him on my deck. Smiles.

I almost expect them to burst into song!

The Mudflats, when the tide is far out.
When the tide is in, this is all water.
This is a stopping point for annual bird migrations,
a great place to watch birds making their pilgrimages.

A Tolkien tree

Thank you, Trees,
for Breathing Peace on me!

Hello, poet friends. I thought today you might enjoy walking along with me through the twelve-acre Tofino Botanical Gardens. We are so fortunate to have this jewel in our midst. I love wandering the trails, communing with the big old friendly trunks along the path. We hold many local events on this site, at Darwin's Cafe, a small coffee shop on the grounds, perfect for poetry evenings and assorted musical and environmental events, all year round.

We have  a good week coming up at Poets United. On Monday, we are chatting with Ayala Zarfjian, whose book Second Chances ~ Poetry from a Sun-Kissed Life was recently published by Golden Dragonfly Press.  

On Wednesday, Sumana's Midweek Motif prompt will be Light. I love the sound of this prompt! We need all the light we can get. Did you catch Rosemary's The Living Dead feature on Friday? Do scroll back, if you missed it. The featured poet is the amazing Federico Garcia Lorca, such an intriguing poet.
And next Friday, I am pleased and proud to be featuring another West Coast poet, a friend of mine, who wrote a book of poems to honour his sister-in-law, one of Canada's murdered and missing women. 

And now, it's time to share some poetry. Link your poem, old or new, leave us a comment to let us know how you're doing, and do visit your fellow poets. I so enjoy reading poetry on Sunday morning. A wonderfully reflective way to end - or begin - another week.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

Love Sleeps in the Poet’s Chest

You’ll never know how I love you
because you sleep in me and are asleep
Weeping I hide you—haunted
by a voice of penetrating steel

Law that shakes the flesh and a star
by now has entered my aching heart
and disturbing words have bitten
the wings of your stern self

People leap in the gardens
looking for your body and my death
on horses of light with green manes

But stay asleep—O my life—
Hear the violins sing my shattered blood
Do you see them watching us?

[Oh hotel bed    oh this sweet bed]

Oh hotel bed    oh this sweet bed
Oh sheet of whitenesses and dew
Hum of your body with my body
Cave of cotton flame and shadow

Oh double lyre that my love branches
around your thighs of fire and cold white nard
Oh tipping raft—oh bright river—
now a branch and now a nightingale

By Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936

from Poet in Spain, translated by Sarah Arvio

Every April (America's 'National Poetry Month' which has spread online to become international) the publisher Knopf posts a poem a day from its distinguished collection, to people who ask to be put on that email list. 

(To sign up for next time, click this link – or you can view all the poems they share, and the publications they'e from, at Knopf's Tumblr.)

The two poems above formed one of their mail-outs this year, with the following note:

While working on Poet in Spain, her translations of the great García Lorca, the poet Sarah Arvio spent time with the original drafts of his famous Dark Love Sonnets, on folded-over sheets of grayish stationery from the Hotel Victoria, in Valencia. Composed for a male lover, the sonnets were, she relates, “rapidly written with a blunt pencil in the same hand . . . in a hotel room; my sense is that he wrote them without a pause, perhaps in one day or one weekend.” She remarks on the stunning perfection of what appear to be first drafts—or, at any rate, the only versions of the poems that have come down to us, given the poet’s murder by Fascist forces very close to the time of their composition, and the subsequent banning of Lorca’s works by Franco’s regime. Though Lorca died in 1936, the sonnet sequence did not reach the reading world until the 1980s; however, it has no equal in conveying an intense passion that is fatefully braided with the mortal necessity of secrecy and the terror of persecution, which, alas, were prescient. Along with the eleven now eternal sonnets, Arvio offers, for the first time in English, a fragment found among the poet’s manuscripts which may have been the opening octet of another—unfinished. Beginning “Oh hotel bed,” it appears here below the haunting “Love Sleeps in the Poet’s Chest.” 

Wikipedia tells us that Lorca was a Spanish poet, playwright and theatre director. Indeed, I remember a friend who once lived in Spain referring to him as a playwright. His plays were evidently still popular there long after his death. I was surprised: she did not seem to be aware of him as a poet, whereas I had thought poetry the sum total of his writing. 

Wikipedia also notes, in passing: 'Although García Lorca's drawings do not often receive attention, he was also a talented artist.' 

He was known as a talented musician, too, before focusing on writing.

His friends included such luminaries as film-maker Luis Bunuel and artist Salvador Dali. He was encouraged by Dali, in 1928, to publicly exhibit his drawings. The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that, 'A gifted draughtsman blessed with a startling visual imagination, Lorca produced hundreds of sketches in his lifetime.' 

Of even greater interest to us, the Britannica biography also remarks that he 'in a career that spanned just 19 years, resurrected and revitalized the most basic strains of Spanish poetry and theatre.... In the early 1930s Lorca helped inaugurate a second Golden Age of the Spanish theatre.'

He was a poetic theorist and innovator, who postulated the concept of 'duende' (particularly as exhibited in flamenco dancing) as a kind of wild, instinctive, passionate form of inspiration. It includes sadness and darkness. Wikipedia calls it 'a Spanish term for a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity'.

Britannica also tells us that Lorca 'was executed by a Nationalist firing squad in the first months of the Spanish Civil War.'

Yes, he was killed at the age of 38, evidently for his socialism, in a Spain which was at that time becoming increasingly right-wing. There are theories that he may also have been singled out for his homosexuality, in the era of institutionalised and legally sanctioned homophobia. (Yet this supposed crime gave rise to the beautiful love poems I've shared with you today – thanks to Sarah Arvio and Knopf.)

Sarah Arvio is a noted American poet, essayist and translator, and the recipient of a number of literary awards.

Many books of Lorca's are available at Amazon, in English or Spanish (often both). Sarah Arvio's own books are also available at Amazon, including The Poet in Spain.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright).