Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter was published in spring 2022 and won the Saboteur Awards 2022 for best poetry pamphlet.
Sarah Mnatzaganian grew up in rural Wiltshire and in her late teens spent each summer with her father’s family in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. She studied English at Oxford University and Byzantine Art History at the Courtauld Institute. Sarah worked as an editor, teacher and freelance journalist before co-founding a cello business with her husband Robin Aitchison in Ely, where they brought up their two children. Her poems have been widely published in literary magazines including The North, Poetry Wales and The Rialto. She won first prize in the Spelt Poetry Competition in 2021.
‘Full of colour and rich, sensory detail, these are warm and often moving poems, utterly unlike anyone else’s. Such a pleasure.’
‘The Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska sums up thus the qualities that characterise a talented poet: ‘A genuine sense for what’s better or worse aesthetically, what’s more or less important, what works, or doesn’t, and why’. Sarah Mnatzaganian has all of that. It has been a pleasure, over the last few years, to see her develop from a promising poet into a very accomplished one. This collection includes several loving poems about family, with characters who come alive on the page. Her poems about children leaving home will bring tears to some eyes. And she writes so deliciously about food that she makes me hungry. I hope her pamphlet will get the attention it richly deserves.’
Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter
Uncle Hagop planted lemon trees outside his house
where small passionate tortoises collide each spring
with the hollow pock of a distant tennis match.
At night his ripest lemons dropped into a crackle
of leaves. He grunted through the cardamom-coffee kitchen
into the courtyard to fill his hands with fruit.
Auntie soothed the juice with syrup and iced water.
Uncle drank, clacked his tongue and sang, My Heart
Will Go On, his head thrown back like a song-bird.
The lemons lay thick last February. My sister filled a bag
for Uncle. She put a smooth yellow oval into his hand
and helped him lift it to his face to smell the zest.
Dad asked the nurse for sugar and a knife. He cut,
squeezed, stirred. See, Hagop, I’m making lemonade
from your trees. Watched his brother smile, sip, sleep.
I had a Gretel moment back there, thinking I’d lost my way,
until I spotted yellow poplar leaves spattering the path
and knew I’d seen them before,
surprised by their bright circles against the mud
on my way through Shropshire rain,
early this late-August morning.
Nearly home, I join a congregation of trees
at the head of the valley. They have no book.
They’re here to breathe, drink light and listen.
From time to time, a motherly dove or dark rook speaks.
Wind sends quiet applause through the leaves of oak and ash
and the sun bowls light straight down the valley.
I would give this morning to those I don’t even love,
whom I’ve never met,
who are not yet born.