photos by Greg D. Cook
story by Portia Choi
Ara Shirinyan was the last guest poet of the Bakersfield Fan Forum at California State University Bakersfield (CSUB) Todd Madigan Gallery. He performed at the gallery on November 30, 2016.
Shirinyan is a poet, publisher and musician. He was born in 1977 in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. His works include Syria Is in the World, Your Country Is Great Afganistan-Guyana, and Handsome Fish Offices. He is currently getting the next sequence of Your Country Is Great to press. He co-founded the Smell, an all-ages music venue in Los Angeles and was until recently one of the co-directors of the Poetic Research Bureau (PRB). The other directors of PRB were Andrew Maxwell and Joseph Mosconi.
Beyond the larger perspective of countries and cultures was his understanding of the microcosm of another form of culture, that of fishes and offices in his book, Handsome Fish Offices. As he explained and performed the poems, there was delight in his voice and expressive movement of his arms and hands as he spoke about the fish cichlids in the Lake Malawi. The book was fascinating and fun with the juxtaposition of his poems with clippings from other published writings. (The writer of this story sensed in the poet a longing to be away from the neutral, impersonal nature of offices and to be with the fun-free movements of lively fishes in a lake in Africa.)
Excerpt from Handsome Fish Offices:
Lake Malawi has islands,
Lake Malawi has muddy
Oceanic coral islands,
Muddy water runs through huge rocks
Under twin, folding side shelves
Business-day deliveries of nutrient salts. . .
The many cichlids found there
Available (not included). . .
Glance through collegiate appointment books
Many Malawian cichlids dig into malfunctioning writing
Instrument feature needs available combination. . .
During the performance, Shirinyan shared a poem that he found on the internet “written” by another poet. To be frank, the poem was technically not written, since there were no words, no use of letters of the alphabet, rather it had series of dashes of various length.
With his performance and his poetry books, Shirinyan shared his internal thoughts and impressions of his world. He communicated and portrayed a way of seeing and understanding our world in a new way.
The following are reviews from www.futurepoem.com about Your Country Is Great by Ara Shirinyan
“Reading travel literature—not to mention postcards or emails from your friends—will never be the same after reading Ara Shirinyan’s hilarious and sardonic Your Country Is Great; Afghanistan-Guyana. Proceeding alphabetically and hence giving equal time to nations as diverse as Belarus and Belgium, Cameroon and Canada, and splicing found text to produce capsule descriptions of one “great” place to visit after another, Shirinyan exposes the fault lines of contemporary geopolitics with much wit and aplomb. In the end, maybe staying home—and reading Shirinyan—is what’s really GREAT.”
“Ara Shirinyan gives us an early glimpse at the deadening effects of globalization on language. Collapsing the space between the ‘real world’ and the World Wide Web, this book calls into question: What is local? What is national? What is multicultural? Instead of accepting current notions of language as a medium of differentiation, Shirinyan persuasively demonstrates its leveling quality, demolishing meaning into a puddle of platitudes. In a time when everything is great, yet nothing is great, you can almost hear Andy Warhol—the king of blandness and neutrality—saying, ‘Gee, this book is great.’”