I met Peter Balakian during a conference in Armenia in December 2010. He gave me this book of poetry, June-tree New and Selected Poems (2001), that I immediatly read in the plane going back to the Netherlands. (The overlay of 12 hours due to bad weather conidtions in Prague helped.) This poem below en the poem Lowlands (about his son) immediatly touched me. I asked him if i could use this poem (In Armenia, 1987) in my upcoming book Near the Foot of Mt. Ararat, but I also asked him if I could translate it and perform it in the Netherlands. He gave me the right to do so, and I performed this poem during the Holocaust memorial on the 26th and 30th of January and the 2nd of February (see link, link, link). I also performed it during a conference in Maastricht, where goverment representative Leers was present, at the beginning of March. The poem was well received and it was a true honor to perform it.


I also asked him if I could publish it on this site, and I am grateful he agreed, for I believe this poem symbolizes the Armenian suffering in the most beautiful and descriptive way:



In Armenia, 1987


Into a basalt cavern    I wandered
where the moon slid like a water snake


in white skin   through the gullies
to the blonde and furry wheat


I dug toward the damp smell   of a water channel–


found a shard   of a cross
its lacework   a system of streams   wound into a stone–


grapes and pomegranates   pomegranates
and grapes   pulpy in my hands


Palmettos sawed my palms
A rising moon in the moss-grown   stone mirrored the light


where winged griffins,   those talismans of blood
flew into the arms of Christ


Down a gully   like a volute
I found a way   to the dry clay of the border


where a scimitar cut the horizon


Pegasus flew   out of the tufa walls
into the white shroud of Ararat


and the ringing bells   slid into the scree.


Down there   I felt my name disappear


Peter Balakian

(published with permission: original poem published 2001, in June-tree New and Selected Poems [1974 – 2000])






Biography of the Author:


Peter Balakian is the author of many books including  6 books of poems, most recently Ziggurat, (University of Chicago Press, 2010) and June-tree: New and Selected Poems, 1974-2000 (HarperCollins 2001). His memoir, Black Dog of Fate won the 1998 PEN/Martha Albrand Prize for the Art of the Memoir, and was a best book of the year for the New York Times, the LA Times, and Publisher’s Weekly, and was recently issued in a 10th anniversary edition. The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response (HarperCollins, 2004), won the 2005 Raphael Lemkin Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book and a New York Times Best Seller. He is co-translator of  Girgoris Balakian’s Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1918 (Knopf, 2009).


He is also the author of a book on the American poet Theodore Roethke and the co translator of  the Armenian poet Siamanto’s Bloody News From My Friend. Between 1976-1996 he edited with Bruce Smith the poetry journal Graham House Review.  He is the recipient of many awards and prizes and civic citations including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, The Emily Clark Balch Prize for poetry from the Virginia Quarterly Review. He has appeared widely on national television and radio (60 Minutes, ABC World News Tonight, PBS, Charlie Rose, CNN, C-SPAN, NPR, Fresh Air, etc) , and his work has been translated into Armenian, Arabic, Bulgarian, French, Dutch, Greek, German, Hebrew, Russian, and Turkish.


He is Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of the Humanities, Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Colgate University.


Link to website.