|Illustration: JB. Based on the art and characters of Rudolph Dirks and Harold H. Knerr|
In 1973, the Armenian/American filmmaker and poet, Aram Boyajian, published his only collection of verse with the chapbook, "the man who wrote the world's longest haiku," priced at two dollars through the since-sold small press, The Crossing Press, of Trumansburg, New York.
The slender, saddle-stitched volume contained 24 poems, some of which had been seen in so-called "little magazines" like Heads Up (see right) and in the anthology, New American & Canadian Poetry, edited by John Gill, which brought my attention to Boyajian through his saucy poem, The Hairs In My Nose.
Boyajian is not a polite poet. Read no further if you're easily offended. He offers no odes to nature, unless bodily functions are included. His work is the literary equivalent of underground comics and Tijuana Bibles.
While the Tijuana Bibles of the Depression era placed characters like Blondie, Betty Boop and Barney Google in, literally, compromising positions, Boyajian does something similar with Hansel & Gretel and the Greek poet Homer.
|Poem excerpt: Aram Boyajian Comic by JB|
|Art: Zevi Blum|
The poem "The Hairs In My Nose" is prefaced with a black-and-white etching by artist Zevi Blum, whose humor aligns with Boyajian's own. (See left)
Here's the first stanza of the poem, set beside Blum's artwork.
I think of God
as an old man with a white beard
sitting on a fluffy cloud
with a long finger pointing out of it
and creating on the 7th day
the hairs in my nose
Over the course of 12 stanzas in "The Hairs In My Nose," Boyajian swerves from a depiction of the Resurrection ("They found no trace/except a memory of wings/and the hairs of his nose") to a couple at a porno theater who are turned on by an actor's nose hairs. When they go home, they leave on all the lights in order to show each other the hairs in their noses.Nose hair doesn't seem suitable as a subject matter for a poem, but author Robin Gill, through her study of Japanese poetry, has found that "nostril hair, far from romantic, is loved by haiku poets, not as a figure of speech but as a reflection upon age and loneliness." Take this one for example:
let's have no tears
over pulling nose hair
Check out this one, too, an example of kyoka, comic Japanese poetry:
forgetting yourself the whole night long, besotted by the moon
soon she'll read your nostril hair and you will play her tune!
Since the time I first encountered Boyajian's poetry, I've transformed from a boy with a Bobby Goldsboro mop to an old fart with gray strands showing from my ears and my nose.
I feel like an old tree whose leaves are mostly gone, but whose root system continues to grow.
|Image by Lorenzo Mattotti|
At poem's outset, Gretel is quickly dispatched after Hansel has his way with her. She may have been killed by her brother or by the witch in the gingerbread house. In either case, the boy despairs:
Sometimes I think of the girl I came with
She's a picture in my mind
I become depressed
and put a cold steel gun to my head
In Boyajian's telling, no one is coming to rescue him. The witch plays sex games with him and mounts him like a hobby horse.
She gets on me
and rides like the wind
She leans and wets my face
and spittles closed my already closed eyes
"The world is really a sugarplum house in the forest
But the forest--I sometimes wonder about the forest"
Suddenly,"The World Is Really . . ." becomes more than a fractured fairy-tale; it's a commentary on us. "We are all Hansel and Gretel diabetics," we learn. "Too much too rich too sweet." We are creatures of desire and monsters of anxiety. "There's that much selfishness," the poet writes. "To the very end."
|Killing of a Vietcong operative by Saigon's police chief, 1968. AP Photo: Eddie Adams|
He asks himself, "What am I doing here in the dark?", and phrase becomes a refrain, as the poet examines moments in his own life and the life of his country to which we should all feel shame.
my wife and I watch the news:
one Vietcong spy dead
shot in the head by a soldier
Boyajian's book was published in 1973, during a dark time in American history when the Vietnam War was still being waged and corruption in the White House was exposed. Richard Nixon was not George Washington, but Nixon never had his face on our money. And you know what they say about money?
. . . a million heads of George Washington
one million heads with one million mouths
all saying to themselves together
hardly moving their lips
in a great incredible chorus
What are we doing here in the dark?
|Filmmaker/poet Aram Boyajian|
I don't know if Boyajian wrote more poetry than the 24 pieces found in his chapbook. I certainly hope so and that he continues to write it. In his 40 plus year career in filmmaking, he edited episodes of the TV documentary, "The Twentieth Century," hosted by Walter Cronkite. He also directed a documentary on the poetry of William Blake, in which fellow poet Allen Ginsberg read and sang Blake's words.
You can still find a copy of Boyajian's book at amazon.com, where it is selling for more than ten times its original price, but is still a steal at $25. Among the poems in this collection, you'll find one called "Tiredness Comes Over Me," and may think of of it on days when you've lost your way to Xanadu and no drug, man, woman or amount of money can take you there. At times like these, you're going to feel just like . . .