By Daphne Abeel
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
Dead Man’s Shadow by Leonardo P. Alishan.
Mazda Publishers. 2011. 144 pp.
The poet’s father named him Leonardo after the great artist, Leonardo da Vinci, but most of his friends called him “Nardo.” And he had a group of devoted friends and admirers, two of whom, Lucian Stone and M.R. Ghanoonparvar, have written an appreciative introduction and afterword, respectively, to this posthumously published volume of Leonardo P. Alishan’s poetry.
His was a dark world, heavily shadowed by the Armenian Genocide, which his grandmother Guyane Abrahmian survived, but only after experiencing unspeakable horrors, including the beheading of her own father, the abandonment of her mother and a possible rape. And his life was marked by other tragedies as well — the death of his brother and the ultimate failure of his marriage. His themes are death, exile, loss, war and identity, only occasionally leavened by lyrical descriptions of the remembered lush gardens of Isfahan.
Alishan was born in 1951 in Tehran to Armenian parents, both of whom were natives of Isfahan. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1973 from the National University of Iran and was then accepted for graduate study at the University of Texas in Austin. Sacco, his younger brother, also immigrated to Texas, but the two siblings followed very different paths. Sacco, who was addicted to drugs, died of an overdose in 1997. Nardo would move to Salt Lake City with his wife, where he was hired as a teaching fellow by the Middle East Center at the University of Utah. There he taught Persian and comparative literature.
Alishan’s first language was Armenian, his second Farsi and English was his third. Yet, he wrote his poems in English, often using the Japanese models — haiku, tanka and senryu. These Japanese models all mandate short poems of just a few lines and Alishan wrote many of these. But there are also longer works, written in free verse.