AGLA NY is pleased to present a talk by Harvard Professor of Armenian Studies James Russell on “Homoerotic poetry and Yeghishe Charents” on Thursday, April 2nd, 2015, 8pm, in room 310 at the Manhattan LGBTQ Center; 208 West 13th Street, New York, NY.
Please join us for an evening of poetry, analysis, community spirit and learn about some fascinating aspects of modern Armenian poetry and culture.
Prof. Russell is an energetic speaker and a fascinating figure. Born in New York City he has been together with his partner Dennis Cordell, a teacher, painter, photographer, and scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, for 35 years. As an undergraduate at Columbia he was in the Gay Activists’ Alliance. He paints, plays guitar (really badly), rides a motorcycle, and is learning Chinese. He is writing a book on the Armenian poet Missak Medzarents, which he hopes to finish this spring.
Some years ago, Russell deciphered, transcribed, translated, and published in facsimile a number of homoerotic poems by the great Soviet Armenian poet Yeghishe Charents. The manuscripts were hidden with other documents on the eve of the poet’s arrest and murder during the Great Purge of 1937. Russell explains: “I was given copies in the collection of the poet Gevorg Emin, who as a boy had known Charents. My article was reprinted in the Yerevan journal Ink’nagir and aroused controversy: there is considerable homophobia in Armenian society. The late medieval poet Catholicos Grigoris Aght’amarts’i wrote a love poem whose most likely addressee was a beautiful male youth. There is nothing unusual about that, or about the imagery he employed, which was and is commonplace in the Islamicate cultures amongst whom many Armenians lived and continue to live. Homosexual feelings and acts are defined differently, comprise part of one’s identity in a different way, and have a different context in the Near East than in the modern West. But they are there. Perhaps the greatest poet of modern Greece, an east Christian country and culture close in many ways to Armenia, was C.P. Cavafy, whose homosexuality was the subject of most of his verses. In civilized countries today the human and civil rights of gays and lesbians are protected by law; but the struggle of my generation, who lived in the time of the Stonewall uprising, is not yet finished. After a lifetime in Armenian studies I will reflect on being gay, on what gay poetry is, and on the homoerotic poems of Charents in the larger context of his great work.”
Russell has also taught at Columbia University and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. He is the author of numerous works, including Zoroastrianism in Armenia and Bosphorus Nights: The Complete Lyric Poems of Bedros Tourian. A few recent publications are “The Book of the Way (Girk‘ chanaparhi) of Yeghishe Charents: An Illuminated Apocalyptic Gospel for Soviet Armenia,” Armenian Studies Program Occasional Paper Series, University of California, Berkeley, Spring 2012; “Armenian Secret and Invented Languages and Argots,” Acta Linguistica Petropolitana, 2012; and “The Seh-lerai Language,” Journal of Armenian Studies (2012-2013).“