By Arusyak Karapetyan, Ontario, 10 August 2021
“I was treated for cancer in 2019, and while undergoing radiation therapy, I felt an irrepressible urge to write poetry—primarily about illness but on other subjects as well. I wrote upwards of 100 poems that I shared with poet and editor Allan Briesmaster who is familiar with virtually every poem I have written. “
Keith Garebian (KG) is a widely published, award-winning writer. He is the author of more than 25 books, theatre and dance critic, biographer, and poet. Born in Bombay, Garebian lives near Toronto and holds a doctorate in Canadian and Commonwealth Literature from Queen’s University. He has been a judge at various prestigious Canadian poetry competitions and participated as a delegate in various literary events. At The Fifth Conference of Writers of Armenian Origin Composing in Other Languages (2013) he received the William Saroyan Medal from the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora. Garebian has been a lecturer/instructor/assistant professor at various Canadian universities and colleges.
Some of his works, theatre books and poetry collections include: Pain: Journeys Around My Parents (2000), The Making of ‘Guys and Dolls’ (2002), Reservoir of Ancestors (2003), Samson’s Hair and other Satiric Fantasies (2004), Frida: Paint Me as A Volcano/Frida: Un Volcan de Souffrance (2004), Blue: The Derek Jarman Poems (2008), Children of Ararat (2010), The Making of ‘Cabaret’ (2011), Moon on Wild Grasses—haiku (2013), Georgia and Alfred (2015), William Hutt: Soldier Actor (2017), Poetry is Blood (2018), Colours to the Chameleon: Canadian Actors on Shakespeare (2019), Against Forgetting (2019) Mini–Musings: Miniature Essays on Theatre and Poetry (2020), and Scan: Cancer Poems (2021).
Upcoming Publications include In the Bowl of My Eye (Spring 2022) and Finger to Finger (2022). Pieces of My Self and Three-Way Renegade are works in progress.
Keghart: When did you begin your professional writing career and who are some of the authors that have inspired you?
KG: I was a good writer in school. However, a colonial education for the Cambridge G.C.E. in India meant that our chief literary models were British, with Shakespeare leading the way—for which I was grateful because even from that early age, I never felt “colonized” by the greatest poet-dramatist in English. As I put it in my book about Canadian Shakespearean actors, Shakespeare “is an expert shape shifter who can have more colors than a chameleon. His immense curiosity about life generates enormous plays with significant questions that cut across all generations and cultures.” As a Commonwealth writer, I was turned into a wider nation (to steal Derek Walcott’s idea), though there can be the fear of feeling like an adjunct to English headquarters.
I became a professional freelance book and theatre reviewer in Montreal in July 1975, publishing reviews, interviews, and articles in diverse newspapers, journals, magazines, and anthologies. When I moved to Ontario, I had wider freelance opportunities, but never enough to make a living. My first book came out in 1983; my first poetry collection in 2003. And as I moved deeper into poetry, my models ranged from Walcott, Paul Celan, Donald Hall, Irving Layton, Peter Balakian, Louise Gluck, Adrienne Rich, Jack Gilbert, and Mark Doty to Ocean Vuong, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Billy Collins, Douglas Burnet Smith, Stephen Heighton, Lorna Crozier, Kevin Irie, etc.
“Being the only son of a father orphaned during the Armenian Genocide, drama was something in my blood and genetic makeup, as it were. What could be more dramatic than learning to live with obscene history? Life also taught me the value and dangers of masquerade in love, marriage, and gender issues. “