Award-Winning MMS Teacher Aram Kabodian Publishes Poetry Collection

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Aram Kabodian in a photo by Gary Caldwell for ELi

Disclosure: I’ve known Aram Kabodian for many years, during which I have seen him auction cakes, juggle, and try to get my son interested in middle school English. Many in the community know him from his years of teaching English and Special Education at East Lansing High School and MacDonald Middle School.

These days, he is also a published poet.

Kabodian grew up in an Armenian-American family in Rochester, Michigan, with a father who wrote poems for his mother and decorated those poems with artwork. Many of the poems in his collection, My Name is Aram, Too, reflect on his heritage; the title of his book is a nod to My Name is Aram, a collection of short stories by Armenian-American writer William Saroyan.

Kabodian’s poems touch on his grandparents’ experience of losing their parents to genocide, his mother teaching him English when he was small, and his maternal grandfather’s dismay when he lost the ability to converse easily in Armenian.

“I’m proud of being an Armenian American,” Kabodian says, “I love the language, the dancing, the history, and the food.” Still connected to his Armenian past, he goes to Armenian churches when he can and savors the sense of “being connected to all Armenians, the wider Armenian family.” Armenians are survivors, he adds, and that means that “even when things have been difficult, every day is a gift.”

Kabodian started college at Oakland University, where he learned he “didn’t want to go into computers.” He then attended Michigan State University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, a teaching certificate in English education, and a master’s degree in special education, which laid the groundwork for 26 years of teaching. In 2016, Kabodian was awarded the Middle School Teacher of the Year award from the Michigan Council of Teachers of English.

He didn’t write poems until college, where he had professors who encouraged him. Kabodian was later part of the Edgewood United Church group Penny Poets, founded by his friend and mentor Bob Rentschler. Rentschler, a well-known figure in East Lansing, is among those Kabodian thanks in his acknowledgements. He is also the subject of two poems in the collection.

The poems in My Name is Aram, Too were written over many years, and the book is divided into a chronological autobiography of sorts, with sections entitled “Glancing in the Rearview Mirror,” “In This Moment,” and “Moving Forward.” The poems became a book when a colleague nudged him to enter a poetry competition in which the first prize was publication of a collection. “There was a slim chance,” he said, “so I figured I better have a collection.” He did not win, but having organized the poems, he decided to publish them himself through Schuler Books’ Chapbook Press.

Why poetry and not prose? “Poetry makes me be more precise. It asks more from me in terms of the brevity of the poem, and word is choice more important. Think of painting a picture with a haiku instead of a whole novel.”

Kabodian also values the emotional immediacy of poetry. “I’ve been accused of distancing myself,” he admits, “and writing poetry makes me be more human.”

These days, Kabodian writes often, generally early in the morning when it’s quiet. He’s working on a new book of poems, less personal this time. He’s also preparing to teach creative writing to elementary and middle school students at Spartan Writing Camp, a program for “students who want to challenge themselves in writing.”

Asked about people who think poetry is “not for them,” Kabodian said it isn’t for everybody, but he taught his students that “everybody had thoughts, ideas, and insights that are worth sharing.” Even people who don’t think they like poetry have sung song lyrics and read Dr. Seuss, and there are accessible poets like Billy Collins and Mary Oliver for adults and Nikki Giovanni and Taylor Mali for young readers. He adds that it can be helpful to hear the poet read their work, and you can hear him read some of the poems from My Name is Aram, Too here.

Three more things about My Name is Aram, Too. The cover art was created by Kabodian’s niece Megan. One of the poems appears to be autobiographical but is actually fiction. And the back cover blurbs (“What People Might Say”) include plugs from Faulkner, Capote, and Mrs. Shakespeare.

My Name is Aram, Too is available online at the Schuler Books website and at Schuler Books in Okemos. In the alternative, Kabodian says, he “does believe in bartering.”

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