Remembrance of things past tests the heart

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ANY DAY NOW By Diana Der-Hovanessian Sheep Meadow Press 90 pp., $12.95

Diana Der-Hovanessian has been a favorite of Monitor readers for years. Since her first poem appeared in 1972, Home Forum fans have delighted in her artful, almost delicate work. They have come to know the sweetness of her love poems and the tenderness of her poems about Armenia, her family's ancestral home. Readers know well her theme of witnessing to the past with a gentle, forgiving voice. They have also watched her become one of the foremost translators of Armenian poetry.

In her newest book, though, readers will see a side of Der-Hovanessian they may have never known. Yes, there are poems filled with her trademark grace and gentility, but there is also a much harder edge.

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In "Any Day Now," her eighth collection, Der-Hovanessian looks unblinkingly at the tragedies her family has endured.

She writes movingly about a sister who was killed at age 4, and of the fire that destroyed the family home that same year. She records the horrors seen by her father's family as they fled Armenia after the Turkish massacres of 1915. She writes of her father's bullet wound received in battle, and of the unseen scars that stayed with the exiled and displaced Armenians.

The Der-Hovanessian in these poems isn't concerned with forgiveness. She wants the past to be remembered. She is the revolutionary's daughter who wages a war of words while wondering if she measures up to the greatness of her father.

In the book's second poem, she writes:

Father, none of your children became

the fighters, the activists, the changers

of fates, that you were.

These lines are heart-breaking because the reader knows the poet has changed lives with her words. But the speaker still wrestles with the question of what and who she has become.

In "My Poems Are" she says:

My poems are my

letters to the past....

My poems are my letters

to my mountains.

With words I climb

the steepest peak.

My poems are my letters

to my father.

This time he allows

me to speak.

And speak she does, of personal and community struggles, of striving to remain loyal to her heritage while living the "easy" life of an American. Der-Hovanessian leads readers through a difficult, often touching journey as she begins to recognize the power of the poet's tongue.

Some readers may prefer Der-Hovanessian's softer work, such as her previous book, "The Circle Dancers." That collection is easier to absorb, and the language feels more poetic. But the point of "Any Day Now" is not merely to take readers on a demanding journey. It is to face down the difficult events, which allows the speaker to move through and beyond them. The collection builds toward a section of love poems, as if to show that love does redeem and soothe, but that the path to love is not easy.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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