By Nalini Priyadarshni

Silva Zanoyan Merjanian

Silva Zanoyan Merjanian is an internationally published poet residing in California. She released her first volume of poetry Uncoil a Night in 2013, and her second volume Rumor was released by Cold River Press in 2015. Proceeds from both books are entirely donated to refugees. She’s been widely published in International journals such as A New Ulster, Knot Magazine, Munyori Literary Journal, Original Van Goghs Ear Anthology, Ygdrasil, San Diego Poetry Annual, among many others. Silva was shortlisted for the Fermoy International Poetry Competition 2012, and was invited to Ireland to introduce her book Uncoil a Night. In April 2015, Silva Zanoyan Merjanian was the guest of honor at the Celebration of Survival on the occasion of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, held at Ohio State University. She has been invited to give speeches and readings, her latest at the Austin Poetry Society and ARPA Institute in Los Angeles. She has been nominated for Pushcart prize for poetry 2015 for three of her poems in Rumor.

This interview was conducted through email.

Nalini Priyadarshni: I am an avid reader of your poetry and have been following your writings on Facebook because they are thought provoking and pure delight. I am very happy that you could take time out to talk about your poetry, your Armenian heritage and culture and life beyond. Your poems are marked with most fascinating use of language, unusual images and delicate feelings. In the practice of writing, of poem-making – can you say something about your relationship with poesies, language and imagination?

Silva Zanoyan Merjanian: In the process of writing, my relationship with the poem is very intimate; there is always a part of the writer in the fabric of the poem even if it’s not about a personal experience.  It is the writer’s imagination that unfolds a poem on paper.  Lately, I am fonder of ambiguous poems, these are difficult to understand and much harder to write, and I get it when some readers tell me they didn’t understand it. But a poem doesn’t have to be fully understood, it mimics life and life is never fully understood.   A poem for me has to move a reader, flicker an imagination in the reader.  Most often such poems need to be read a few times, and while I am writing them, I use metaphor, I use colors in written images and hope the reader will see a painting, even if abstract that moves him or her.

NP: I have read and reread your poems aloud for the sheer joy its cadence brings. In fact, your poems have been read aloud by others and posted online. What does it means to you to be a poet?

SZM: Thank you! Being a poet came late in life for me, but now I can’t think of myself as anything else.  It is who I am.  With time, it changes the way one perceives life, from the smallest detail to the general big picture.
NP: What inspires you in life and literature? Any favorite poets who have influenced your writing?

SZM: I get my inspirations from a very large range.  It could be a word, a scent, a current event,
and in literature of course there is Neruda and Lorca, not to mention T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound
among many.

NP: Do you maintain a daily writing schedule? How long does it take you to write a poem?

SZM: No, I do not have a daily schedule, and I definitely can’t write a poem a day.  I have to write when the urge hits, it could be 2 AM, it could be early morning, there is no disciplined schedule.  This is why I do not participate in workshops; I can’t write on demand.

NP: How has living in different cities of the world shaped your poetic sensibilities?

SZM: Living in different cities in the world has definitely impacted my writing. I draw from my experiences, and I write not about the cities landscapes but about a relationship with the cities. I personify them and use them interchangeably within the poem with men. Sometimes even I don’t know at what point the city became a society and the society became a man

NP: How does a poem begin for you- with an idea, an image or a form?

SZM: It differs, sometimes it is one word that triggers an image in my head, sometimes it is a current event and I change the context.  Sometimes I start with one idea triggered by an emotion and the poem takes the lead and I end up having written something entirely different than what I started with.  One thing’s constant, I have to be emotionally and mentally moved or it won’t go anywhere.  Most of my work is on relationships, be it with myself, as in Awakening, or with faith as in Converge, or cities as in Nostalgia and Saints in My Rain. I find a relationship somewhere, between women, married couples, friends, parents, and it just unfolds…

NP: Cover art of your second book, Rumor is breathtaking. Tell us about it.

SZM: Cover Art is by a very famous Armenian artist Suren Voskanian.  I was conversing with my brother that I was looking for a cover that would reflect the idea of rumor, and it was his suggestion to see if we could get the rights to have this particular painting on the cover. And I was lucky the art gallery who sold the piece gave the rights.  I sent the book to Suren, who took a picture of himself holding the book and sent it to me. I am glad we were introduced.

NP: You have donated the entire sales proceeds from Rumor to a charity. Please tell us about it.

SZM: I have donated the entire proceeds from both my books Uncoil a Night (2013) and Rumor (2015) to charity.  For me, it is important that my art gives back, having said that I do not write so I can give to charity, I write because I am a poet, I have to write, it’s part of who I am, but after a book is published it makes sense to me to donate and reach out to those who can benefit from my art. I donated to Syrian Armenian Relief Fund, because they provide basic necessities to refugees in that area.  I am not involved in any politics and just want to help families who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

NP: How do you think internet and social media contribute towards well-being of the poetry?

SZM: I think the Internet and social media opens doors and connects poets and creates opportunities.  Just like in any form of art.  It definitely has helped me personally as I am in touch with poets from all over the world.  Rumor is now in so many countries and I have the Internet to thank for that.

NP: What is your advice to budding poets?

SZM: My advice to budding poets is first to read.  Read the masters, read from social media friends, from those who have won awards, or are published in respected literary journals.  Then find out what your own voice and style is and what you are comfortable with.  Never write in a form you don’t like except for learning purposes, as it interferes with the creative process.  Write from your heart and pay attention to language.


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Nalini Priyadarshni
Nalini Priyadarshni is a poet, writer, editor and amateur photographer. Her work has appeared at Up the Staircase Weekly, eFiction India, Mad Swirl, Crescent Magazine, The Riveter Review, Writes & Lovers Café, The Gambler, Camel Saloon, Earl of Plaid, CUIB-NEST-NIDO, and The Open Road Review, Phoenix Photo and Fiction, Undertow Tanka besides numerous anthologies including I Am Woman, Awakening of She, Art of Being Human etc. Her forthcoming publications include 52 Loves and I Am Waiting series by Silver Birch Press. She lives in India with her husband and two feisty kids.