By Sonia I. Ketchian
It was cousin Leo Sarkisian who invited this neophyte graduate student of the Harvard Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures to the reception by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) at Harvard’s Harkness Commons. Among the initial founders of NAASR, Leo introduced me to several members: Manoog Young, Karen Bedrosian, Thomas Amirian with his daughter Adrianne, and Diana Der Hovanessian.
Sometime later, Leo and Diana’s joint letter published in the New York Times deplored the denial of the Genocide. Diana had signed her married name. In fact, Leo told me they had written several letters over the years with Diana alternating between her maiden and married names.
Leo was active in many just causes, as were Diana and her dad, John Senior. In fact, Diana later told me that her dad was very proud of and dearly loved his biological son John, Jr., and appreciated Leo as his “spiritual son.” Our friendship thrived on mutual admiration of Leo and his dedication to truth and justice.
I remember strikingly beautiful Diana wearing a sleeveless ivory-colored fitted dress and hair just below chin-line and her handsome husband Jim Dalley hosting exciting gatherings of intellectuals, and especially writers and poets, at their hospitable Cambridge home. Their cute little daughters Maro and Sona, sister Helen, brother John, Jr. enhanced the hospitality. With John Jr. at the helm and Diana participating at times, the younger persons were playing poetry and poet guessing games. There, among many others, I was to meet acclaimed Armenian poets over the years: Maro Markarian and Gevork Emin. The brilliant intellectual Edmond Azadian, an admirer of Maro’s poetry, drove her there. Edmond’s vast erudition in Armenian and other literatures and poetry enhanced the general discussion. Only later did I learn that Russian poet Anna Akhmatova had translated Maro’s poetry, which was when I was able to invite Maro to participate in the Akhmatova Centennial Conference at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy that I organized and coordinated courtesy of The Rockefeller Foundation and The Harvard Russian Research Center. Another of the fine poets I met at Diana’s home later was Gevork Emin whom Andrei Voznesensky translated. Diana always treated me as a friend of the family, but our true tie was literature, and poetry in particular.
Learning a few years later of my special interest in the poetry of Anna Akhmatova, Diana urged me to prepare several literal translations of the poems for her to transform into English poems to be read on public radio. The choice of poems was mine. We met at her home with several sheets of my literally translated poems. I read the poems in Russian for Diana to follow my translations, and to meld the visual English pieces into artistic verse, remaining as close as possible to the meaning, rhythm, sounds, melody, and devices as possible. In February, 1972 at the WGBH Radio (Boston) studio on Jean Harper’s program, “The Poet Speaks,” I read my chosen poems by Akhmatova in Russian and Diana recited her superb verse translations of the poems based on my literal translations from the Russian. Diana heard our reading rebroadcasted several more times on WGBH.