Sitting halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, Racine may not be a place that many of us have spent much time pondering, but to poet David Kherdian, it means everything.
Kherdian grew up in this midwestern town on the shores of Lake Michigan as part of a small but vibrant Armenian community. Like his parents, most had relatives who had survived the Armenian Genocide. In Racine, as in other factory towns such as Worcester, Mass. and Syracuse, NY, Armenians around the country regrouped and went to work rebuilding their decimated communities.
Kherdian’s latest literary effort, A Place in Time, published in 2020, pays homage in verse and prose to a town at once utterly banal and completely remarkable. In other places, Kherdian has written about the difficulty of growing up in small town America, but here the tone turns mostly elegiac.
Kherdian, best known as a poet of both nature and man and the one-time editor of Ararat Quarterly, has published more than 50 books in his lifetime. His wife, Nonny Hogrogian, is also a prolific writer and illustrator of children’s books.
Born in 1931, Kherdian also draws a fine figure as a doyen of sorts of Armenian-American writers, having encouraged, nourished and published many who came after him. In 2007 he edited the milestone Forgotten Bread on Heyday Press. The book involved so-called “second-generation” Armenian writers in America, people such as Nancy Agabian and Hrag Vartanian and myself, each one introducing in essay form the work of a first-generation writer — which included talents such as Leon Surmelian, Harry Barba and Michael Arlen Jr. The book was vital in placing Armenian writers in context, giving them both a time and a place of their own. It also showed that the cultural vitality of Armenians spread out over several generations and was here to stay. Saroyan may have put us on the map, but Kherdian helped to make sure that we remained there.
So what of A Place in Time? Over some 300 pages, the careful reader will delight in lively, heartfelt and sometimes quaint vignettes of Racine. Given all the divisiveness in American society today, we might do best for an instant to put down the war drums and recall quieter, more harmonious times. In his introduction, Kherdian explains: