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The Robert Lowell Revival: Diana Der Hovanessian

     Diana Der Hovanessian is a preeminent translator and advocate of Armenian poetry and herself a peculiarly affecting poet who brings a forgiving touch to unspeakable memory.  “I write poetry because I can’t sing,” she says with a husky laugh.  Like Elizabeth Bishop, she is a child of Worcester, Massachusetts.  “A slight woman with flowing hair and penetrating amber-brown eyes, Der Hovanessian carries her complicated heritage lightly but seriously,” Sally Cragin wrote insightfully.  “For Armenians, all aspects of the culture are to be examined as well as embraced — even the unspeakable pain of genocide and subsequent massacres.”  When I asked Diana to read from the new Collected Poems of Robert Lowell, she asked if she might speak first of Lowell the teacher, who had selected her for one of his last seminars at Harvard.  “He didn’t mumble!” she said, correcting the great Helen Vendler.  “He gave us permission,” Diana said.  For translators it was the same permission he’d given himself to be free with the original, “to make the best possible poem… He gave us permission to be political, … to be experimental, … to be free, and to use forms!”  The Lowell poems Diana chose to read are: “Florence,” “Middle Age,” “Theodore Roethke,” “Robert Frost,” “Memories of West Street and Lepke,” and “For Eugene McCarthy.”  Each one, in her delivery and comments, becomes a reflection of both writer and reader.  Listen up, please.

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