Consider the following two books by author David Kherdian:
Homage to Adana is a deep dive into the essence of the immigrant experience, told through a series of lyrical poems.
Right Now, on the other hand, is a children’s picture book about mindfully coping with one’s emotions and fully embracing the present.
As the diversity of these titles may suggest, Kherdian has put forth an exceptionally varied canon of work. Over the past 60 years, he has written novels, children’s picture books (often collaborating with his wife Nonny Hogrogian), and poetry collections in addition to editing the Ararat literary magazine. To the casual observer, it may appear as though the writer has been in flux for more than half a century, reinventing himself with each decade. However, upon closer inspection, there has been a common thread throughout all these years of writing. This all becomes quite clear with his latest work, Black Mountain Home.
In this poetry collection, which was released this past autumn by Cascade Press, Kherdian reflects upon life in the small town of Black Mountain, North Carolina. Nestled amongst the mountains, he vividly captures the sights, the smells and the simple everyday joys of country living.
In the opening poem, the reader is introduced to North Carolina’s crisp and rotund clouds— the overarching network of ethereal goodness that encompasses the natural beauty of this mountain town. From then on, Kherdian transports readers to his new home, vividly describing the flora and fauna of Black Mountain in bloom, including curious encounters with squirrels, rabbits and even a bear.
What starts out as a poet’s appreciation of nature evolves into something much deeper, however. The poems end up doing more than simply taking us on a nature stroll – they enable us to transcend the beauty that is all around us. Kherdian puts a distinctly spiritual twist on several of the final poems of the book. He encourages the readers to not only appreciate nature, but to form a truer communion with it.
Consider the first two stanzas of “WORLDS” from Black Mountain Home, where Kherdian writes:
In this little world I am now present in
with creatures and limbs of trees
and growing trunks, also creaturely—
until I feel myself one of them,
as tenuous and as solid by turns
that I wonder, suddenly—what life would
be if occupied altogether only by humans,
with their various lone constructions,
all of it inhibiting happiness
and the pleasures found here
What starts off as an appreciation of trees, and the comfort that these towering giants of natural construct provide, drifts off into introspection of the balance of nature and what a lack of balance may feel like.
Published in 2019, Black Mountain Home helps bring much of his earlier work into focus. Per my reading, there is a common essence that is shared by David’s children’s books, juvenile fiction, beat poetry collections, journals – they are manuals that provide insight to help grow our souls. Today, Kherdian’s thoughts on life and the cultivation of one’s self are a very welcome break from today’s onslaught of digital overload, materialism and impulsive consumerism.
This mindful appreciation of nature can be observed in Kherdian’s earliest works. Consider “ROOT RIVER” from Homage to Adana, where Kherdian again emphasizes the unique balance of the natural world and our role in all of it:
where we camped
above where the
the huge oak
spread its roots
deep in the still water
where the black bass
and where we
fished for them
in the morning
from the tree’s trunk
to where they hid
in the shadows
Finally, a spread from Right Now, which features beautiful illustrations from two-time Caldecott Medalist Nonny Hogrogian.
Kherdian continues to write poetry. He is currently working on A Place in Time, which can best be described as a 20th century memoir told through poetry and prose. By poetically recounting his youth in the once bustling factory town of Racine, Wisconsin, this soon to be released work offers a way for all of us to reconnect with our youth and reclaim the hopes, yearnings and joys that once filled our lives.