Poet Arto Vaun and essayist Taline Voskeritchian led an inspiring evening at ALMA on February 20. The first in the new series, “In Conversation” was launched with a capacity crowd drawn into a stimulating and challenging discussion about the nature of poetry and the creative process. The event was unusual not just due to the numbers of people in attendance, but also the unique combination of Armenians, non-Armenians, and both younger and older people.
Despite the large audience, it was an intimate atmosphere with a real exchange of ideas. A musician as well as a poet, Vaun—who is a Watertown, MA native—began the evening by reading from his recently published book, Capillarity. The rhythm and phrasing of his poems affected the audience, who listened carefully to the words and thoughts. Later, Voskeritchian prodded Vaun to discuss his themes and to think aloud about why he writes poetry rather than prose and what differences he sees between them. Vaun and Voskeritchian discussed the question and problem of memory in the Armenian community (or any community that experiences trauma). Vaun pointed out that it is only through serious art that the tricky concept of memory and identity can be dealt with and remade. “For me, poetry is the best tool to accomplish this,” he claimed, “because it disrupts and implodes language and jars the listener and reader to see the many layers of reality that otherwise might slip by.” The conversational format brought in many people, moved by the poetry and reacting to the issues raised by Voskeritchian. It was a lively, refreshing conversation from many perspectives.
Vaun later commented, “An artist’s job is not to make people feel good about themselves... but to provoke, question, explore, and get them to dig deep in themselves when otherwise they might just go home and settle back into their routines. Ironically, in being pushed and challenged in a loving way people end up feeling good about themselves and their communities because it is refreshing to be taken seriously, not talked down to, and to have an honest dialogue.”
The idea of having artists and writers in conversation was the brainchild of Voskeritchian, and ALMA will continue this series as a forum for people to discuss ideas and the many ways in which we express them.
Click here to watch an extract of Arto reading from his poetry.