An Armenian born in Beirut and living in Los Angeles, Shahé Mankerian is a poet and a teacher, and one of many marvelous contributors to the recently published America Is Not The World. Now read on … dot … dot … dot …
Who are you? I’m Shahé Mankerian, a poet, a playwright, and a principal of an Armenian School in Pasadena, CA.
And where in the world are you? I’m in Sherman Oaks, CA, where I can actually hear the cliché of birds chirping, a stark contrast from the horn-tooting streets of Beirut.
What is the best thing about your country? When I left the country of my childhood, I left behind the streets full of poetic colors, where a mosque might brush against a church, where a Druze tailor might loan a Maronite baker money, where schoolboys played football in alleys and cursed their luck in hodgepodge of languages.
And the worst? When I left the country of my childhood, I left behind the streets full of poetic horror, where I saw the destruction of mosques by church-going militiamen, where a Druze tailor might vandalize the Maronite bakery down the street, where schoolboys played football in alleys and cursed each other in hodgepodge of languages.
How has your country shaped you? My country of birth has given me languages that frees me from the mundane traps of the Western world.
Tell us about your favorite place in the world. My favorite place in the world is my home in Sherman Oaks, surrounded by the cliché of chirping birds, the bookshelf full of friends, my daughter with her imaginary angels and monsters, and my wife who pushes me to enter new worlds.
Tell us about your poem in America Is Not the World. “The Parable of the Dog” is my attempt to create the dichotomy of being stuck between two cultures in my immediate America. My mother represents the old world, full of amazing cuisine and culture. The ungrateful son is the whitewashed sellout.
Tell us about a writer from your country that we should know about. I was born in Lebanon, but I am an Armenian. I read the poetry of Taniel Varoujan and Siamanto in Armenian before I could read any letter in Arabic. The world should read Varoujan and Siamanto because they were temporarily silenced during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The Turkish perpetrators wanted the world to forget about this small race of creators. Reading the translated works of Varoujan and Siamanto would provide the world their deserved voices.
What else is going on? April 24th, 2016, marks the 101st Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. My students and I will be demonstrating in front of the Turkish Embassy in Los Angeles for the recognition of our 1.5 million martyrs. To this day, the genocidal termination of Armenians in 1915 are not recognized by the Turkish government and the United States of America.
What is next for you? I’m trying to get my manuscript, History of Forgetfulness, published. I’ve been a Finalist a number of times, but no takers yet.
Tell us a secret. I was born with twelve fingers.
Give us a song. I have chosen an Armenian song by Ruben Hakhverdyan, “Im Pokrig Navag” translated as “My Tiny Boat.” The song reminds me of my daughter’s childhood, and in a weird way my childhood in Beirut. This Beatlesque song honors the stream of remembrance.
Shahé Mankerian’s manuscript, History of Forgetfulness, has been a finalist at four prestigious competitions: the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition, the 2013 Bibby First Book Competition, the Quercus Review Press, Fall Poetry Book Award (2013), and the 2014 White Pine Press Poetry Prize. He serves as the principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School in Pasadena and co-directs the Los Angeles Writing Project. He has been honored with the Los Angeles Music Center’s BRAVO Award, which recognizes teachers for innovation and excellence in arts education.