Richard Ter-Pogosian grave, Los Angeles

Click on photos to enlarge.

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I’ve been working for awhile now with the majors – your Dostoevskys and Bulgakovs and such. But not by Pushkin alone is Russian literature Russian literature. And so on this day, so dreary, rainy and quiet where I live, I have succumbed to the desire to search a little farther than usual and to dig into the more obscure reaches of my topic. I’ll tell you right here: I had never heard of the poet Richard Ter-Pogosian until I happened upon his grave about a year ago in the Hollywood Forever cemetery. I would not have known that Richard Saakovich was a poet, had not his gravestone proclaimed it quite assertively in proverbial black and white. We can quickly summarize the information which I carried away with me from this place: Ter-Pogosian was born in 1911 and he died in his mid-90s in 2005. His wife Maria, nee Yevtushenko, was born in 1918 and preceded her husband in death in 2003. As I say, Mr. Ter-Pogosian was a poet, which is borne out not only by the word itself, but by the quill next to the word atop of the stone cross above his name. His name, of course, indicates he was of Armenian descent, although the fact that the gravestone offers it in Russian (as it does the word “poet”) implies that he considered himself a Russian poet. The name is given in English on the stone cross as Ter-Boghossian, although that rings no more bells than Ter-Pogosian. (Unless it makes us wonder if there is any connection between our poet and Eric Bogosian, the American playwright of Armenian extraction.) And that is it. That puts me at the end of my pitifully meagre knowledge.
A few things came to me long after I made these photos in the summer of 2015. By which I mean to say I only noticed them today as I began editing them. One is that there appear to be two cups of some kind lying on their side between the two graves. Perhaps these are vessels for flowers that have been put aside for the moment. I mention them because they seem to bear some specific kind of design. I don’t know if there is anything in that which might expand our knowledge or not. The other thing is the clay pot at the foot of Richard’s gravestone. Look closely at the photo above. Yes, you’re right. That is a baby’s boot in the pot. Not exactly the first thing you would expect to see in a flower pot on a grave. But there it is – the reality of it is undeniable. (The flower pot on Maria’s grave appears to be empty.) Now, if you think I am struggling to come up with something to write, you are absolutely correct. On the other hand, when presented with an absolute dearth of information, one can only begin with whatever is at hand. I have done that now, and now I have exhausted it. Utterly. As such, it is time to turn to the god of contemporary information, and to ask it, as our forbears once appealed to the Oracles, for whatever enlightenment They should so deem to share.

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The first bit of information I come upon is posted on booktracker.org, a Russian-language site that offers a page listing the writers of the Second Wave of emigration. This is important, because we now know that Ter-Pogosian left the Soviet Union during or shortly after World War II. As the site suggests, from the years 1938 to 1947, 10 million Soviet citizens found ways to leave the Soviet Union. The Second Wave is considered to have continued into the 1950s. There are 74 individuals in this list of writers (expanded to include historians, academics, journalists, etc.). No information is offered about anyone, aside from birth-death dates.
Next we come upon a Russian-language book published by Vladimir Agenosov in 2014. It is entitled Those Who Arose from Oblivion: An Anthology of DP (displaced persons) Writers and the Second Emigration. It includes poetry by Ter-Pogosian. An interesting statistic offered up in a review of this book is that approximately 13,000 displaced persons settled in the UK; 77,400 in the US; 25,200 in Australia; 23,200 in Canada…
Mikhail Yupp, in a long article on the internet, tells of tracking down Ter-Pogosian after finding one of his poems reprinted in a 1966 calendar put out by a Russians abroad organization. He also gets in a few digs at a Russian scholar who had published a collection, Coasts, dealing with the topic of DP poets. Unlike Yupp, he had not been able to find Ter-Pogosian when doing his research. I’ll quote Yupp’s description of the incident, because it is the only reference to the poet’s own speech that I have uncovered as of yet:
In the summer of 1992 one of the editors of the Coasts collection was in Los Angeles and he called Richard Saakovich. When asked, ‘How did Yupp find you?’ Ter-Pogosian replied:
‘He who seeks shall always find. However, why didn’t you, respected editor, appeal to Yupp? After all, you both life in the same city.’
The poem that Yupp discovered was called “Greatcoat” and tells of thoughts visited upon the poet when, one day, he pulls an old greatcoat out of a trunk. “Greatcoat” contains lines that might allow us to draw some conclusions about Ter-Pogosian’s escape from the Soviet Union. Here, in a hasty translation, are the final three quatrains from that work:

…At war and in bitter battles
Your gray hue lost its color.
You’re full of holes and stains of blood –
Traces of those cruel years!

So much woe and deprivation
Settled on your shoulders!
On the fields of wild battle
And in German labor camps!

I brought you with me here
To these lands so faraway.
We are inseparable now,
My gray greatcoat and I.

As such, we may conjecture that Ter–Pogosian was one of those (like two of my first teachers of Russian) who slipped out of the Soviet Union by way of Germany during, or shortly after, the war. He also appears to have survived time as a POW.
To the best of my ability to determine, Ter-Pogosian published at least four volumes of poetry in his lifetime. (See P.S. below.) In any case you can see four books listed on a Russian bookseller’s webpage:
1. Poems (3rd edition), Paris, 1960.
2. Lively Brook, Madrid, 1972.
3. Along Boundaries, Los Angeles, 1988.
4. Herbarium, Los Angeles, 1991.
The price set for the four volumes is, according to today’s exchange rate, approximately $540.
Note the cities of publication. Does this mean that Ter-Pogosian resided in Europe into the 1970s then found his way to the United States at about the time that the Third Wave of emigration was taking place from the Soviet Union? Possibly. Or it is possible that publishers in Paris and Madrid were simply willing to publish his work.
At present I have no more answers to these or any other questions about Richard Ter-Pogosian. I’ll be looking, though…

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I am compelled to add a P.S. several days after my original post thanks to a letter from my friend Peter Greenleaf, who somehow always seems to have been where I have not yet gone. It proved true again in connection with Ter-Pogosian. Please look at the photos below and behold: a portrait of the poet, a listing of the poetry collections he published, and a shot of two book covers, one of them being Lively Brook, the other being Collected Poetry. There were more than I knew. The photos are of items that Peter holds in his personal library. For the record, here are the books as we now know them:
1. Poems, Paris, 1960.
2. Lively Brook, Madrid, 1972.
3. Along Boundaries, Los Angeles, 1988.
4. Herbarium, Los Angeles, 1991.
5. Evening Bell (p. & d. undetermined)
6. Rainbow (p. & d. undetermined)
7. Collected Poetry (p. & d. undetermined)
We also see that Ter-Pogosian had at least one unpublished book, Epilogue.
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One thought on “Richard Ter-Pogosian grave, Los Angeles”

  1. Interesting stuff, thanks for digging it up! But I find it odd that you call him “Ter-Pogosian” when it’s clear from his tombstone that he himself used Ter-Boghossian, which is much closer to the Armenian form. (Boghos is the Armenian form of Paul.)

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