A swan song is a song of departure: after a lifetime of silence, the legend goes, the mute swan breaks into song just before leaving this world for good. Armen Davoudian’s Swan Song chronicles what it’s like to take leave of a home, a country, a past life. In their search for a home in language, these poems combine the formal resources of English and Persian poetry, turning the immigrant’s permanent sense of loss and rootlessness, the gay person’s sense of alienation, into artistic assets—positions of outsiderhood from which to witness and record.
“What beautiful poems! Armen Davoudian’s superb Swan Song speaks with a lushly sensuous music. It’s full of a longing that is both sweet and harsh, as when he describes the blackness at the center of a red tulip ‘as though / a cigarette had been put out in it.’ The poems’ protagonist is the poignant recorder of the ‘patchouli funk,’ saffron, and rosewater of a coddled Iranian childhood. And his is a princely sensibility—but adaptable, happily unperturbed in a ‘one-bath four-person household.’ Formally virtuosic, sometimes passionately, comically opinionated—‘Everyone in my all-boys school is dumber than me’—Davoudian can also describe the trauma caused by the president and his travel bans with devastating precision and understatement. That he loves men is a mostly undramatic matter, and he observes the antics of straight attempts at coupling with sympathy. This marvelous book casts a spell, the reservoirs of desire filling and emptying in rhythmic cycles, and reading it is a visit with a charmed voice. Long may it sing.”
—Patrick Donnelly, author of Little-Known Operas
Judge of the 2020 Frost Place Chapbook Competition
“Armen Davoudian’s poetry is very rich—rich with histories, cultures, and contexts; sensuously rich in its evocations of colors, tastes, textures and smells; personally rich in its complex reminiscences and vivid apprehensions; and above all linguistically rich in its gorgeously modulated structures and cadences. I’ve rarely come across so much scrumptious poetic splendor in such a small place. This chapbook deserves a very emphatic ‘Bravo!’”
—Dick Davis, author of Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz
Read a sample poem:
All over Sofeh Mountain, sensing life,
garlic escapes its winter sleep in scapes
we cut and bind together in a sheaf,
the skinned cloves sticky to the touch like lips,
firm but fleshy, reeking as though alive.
We weave a garland to hang round the clock
and can the rest. Grandma says she’ll save
the biggest jar to open when I’m back.
I found a strand of silver hair today
snagged on the label of a jar, a gray
entangled cursive of another language.
Inside, the broken heads soften and age
in verjuice, coriander, salt, molasses,
black with sulfuration, new with loss.