Why Shahe's Mankerian's Beirut Civil War Poetry Collection Made the Longlist for the Julie Suk Award
History of Forgetfulness is the debut poetry collection by Shahé Mankerian. Each poem explores dark themes in a brutally honest, unflinching manner, as the narrator explains growing up in Beirut as it was torn apart by civil war in 1975. The violence of war is detailed through the presence of snipers, landmines, and plane bombings. The consequences of such cruelty are explored in graphic detail, such as food shortages, power blackouts, and the rising death toll forcing children to become adults overnight. The collection has been a finalist at the Bibby First Book Competition, the Crab Orchard Poetry Open Competition, the Quercus Review Press Poetry Award, and the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. Most recently, we would like to celebrate the fact that the collection has made the longlist for the Julie Suk Award, part of an initiative by Jacar Press.
There were many poems throughout the collection that were especially worthy of the praise and accolades they have received since publication. In particular, the poem Educating the Son begins the collection on a startlingly sombre note, as the narrator explains how he learnt about death from working in a morgue during the summer holidays.
He explains that he helped bathe the bodies of boys his own age in a state of shock, then states, ‘I witnessed death / before I could live.’
The juxtaposition between the poem Lord’s Prayer: Age 8 and Lord’s Prayer: Age 28 is also deeply emotional. The former poem outlines a boy’s fearful but defiant prayer asking God to strike down and devour his abusive father. The poem ends on the image of a wish bone, indicating that the request is full of genuine hope. The latter poem then explores how the boy has become a man, whilst his father has become elderly and declined into poor health.
The poem ends with the phrase ‘I fed him cakes / of dirt and watched the box / disappear from view.’ with his childhood prayer becoming a reality as he attends his father’s funeral.
The poem The Last Mosque sets the scene of a Christian boy who believes in God, yet is so frightened he hides in a mosque and begs Allah for protection, as his friend is caught up in the bombings whilst playing hide-and-seek outside.
Deeper within the collection, the poem Before the Deluge hisses about the destruction of the recent bombings in a serpentine manner as it states: ‘spiral of snapped electric wires strewn / the streets like snakes.’ There is also an intermingling of domesticity with war imagery to show how the horror of warfare has become everyday for the families living in Beirut, as it finishes with the line: ‘Ruptured copper pipes filled bomb craters / like cereal bowls. Bones and body parts floated like / cornflakes.’
Thanks for reading our latest blog post highlighting the talented body of poetry within History of Forgetfulness by Shahe Mankerian. To read more of his work, make sure to purchase a copy from the Fly on the Wall Shop within the UK, or Abril Bookshop and Barnes and Noble Bookstores across the US.
By Ashley Eyvanaki