Director Garo Berberian was looking for a piece of poetry to connect the narrative strands of the film shaped by Varoujan’s poetry through the 5 scenes: Arrest, Incarceration, Train, Prison and Death, and he commissioned Ben Hodgson to write a poem. The poem has the timbre of a voice shaped and scarred by what humans do in violation of humanity throughout history. It is laden with its own guilt and speaks of horror, shame and sorrow. It is a voice that comprehends the self-destructive side of the human condition but which pleads with itself, and with us the audience, to learn from repetitive genocidal history that has not learnt the lessons of the past.
We talked to Ben to understand more about how and why he got involved in writing poetry for the film:
After working with Director Garo Berberian on his film “Return of the Tyke“, he invited me to write about the Armenian Genocide. Feeling wholly unqualified for this I was nevertheless drawn, through research, to the story of the poet Taniel Varoujan and his arrest, torture and murder in what was the commencement of the atrocity. Eyewitness accounts* relate him writing during his imprisonment, although what he wrote was unsurprisingly lost. Wanting to distill the deaths of over 1 million people into a single tangible story, I began with the idea of the lost writings of Taniel Varoujan and started working on “Indelible”, a new poem which would imagine the words that he might have been writing. This would offer a narrative thread through the film’s account of the actual events. I was personally interested in largely removing national identity from the text in order for the film to be pertinent to current and past world events and so make the film relevant to as wide an audience as possible.
Those responsible for the Armenian Genocide have continued to both deny and conceal their actions. Garo set out to make a film that helped reveal the actions they sought to hide and I wanted to write words that inked those actions into the history books permanently. Indelibly.
Knowing that my words, when heard in the context of the film, would be accompanied by filmed scenes and Varoujan’s poetry, freed me to write a commentary in the form of a corroborative account. One that might been found on those lost scraps of paper. This also freed me to make connections between blood and ink, between railway sleepers and the relentlessly rising body count and between breaking bread, the cycle of life and the birth of his son Haygag, which fell on the day of his murder. Above all I wanted to echo the message of hope and celebration of life that runs through Taniel’s poetry. His was the ink in which I wanted to dip my pen.
Behold The Poet (Taniel Varoujan),
As he writes his heart
Upon history’s page.
Words that tumble,
Words that sing,
Words that fly
As swifts on the wing,
Freely declared over river and field,
Ringing through street, town and square;
And across the desk of the authorities.
Stop the clocks
Children, born and unborn,
For one hundred years of mourning
Invades this night,
The blackest night that ever befell a nation.
A trail of ink,
A river of blood.
Varoujan, a name, now numbered,
Checked and ticked,
(Poet in parentheses),
With Teacher, Musician, clerical error,
Baker, Butcher, man betrayed,
Under cover of the darkness,
In numbers still small enough to count.
Yawning their hunger,
Gape mouthed freight cars
Fed with humans,
Crunch their jaws
The final journey;
Its meter measured by the rhythm of the rails.
Click clack, click clack.
The coaches groan and heave their haul.
Click clack, click, click clack
Over wooden sleepers laid out in lines,
And hundreds of thousands.
Morsels of food
Wrapped in paper
Sustain the souls in these last days.
But Taniel Varoujan hungers for what others discard
And such blessed scraps
bear his words across the years.
Behold the disappeared:
Teachers, Musicians, clerical errors,
A Butcher thrown in with the lambs,
Sensing the imminent slaughter,
Stills his tongue
To calm the flock
As one by one they are taken,
Stumbling as newborns,
To the knocking pen.
Do not turn away,
Stay and read the signs:
Brings not death
And on this very day
Filling its lungs
With Taniel’s dying breath,
Cries out to the world.
So take, eat,
This is the word
Spoken for you.
The words that flow from his heart,
The poems that pump from his pen
Seep into the soil,
Drop by drop by drop.
Teachers, Councilmen, clerical errors,
Bakers, Butchers, those betrayed.
Rich the lifeblood spills
as ink it fills the well.
Dip your pens.