Dancing in Odessa

Ilya Kaminsky is one of those poets whose heart sings in his poems. And that is of course a wondrous irony, as Ilya lost most of his hearing at the age of four due to misdiagnosis.

Ilya Kaminsky, Credit: Wikipedia

He was born in 1977 and grew up in Odessa; ‘A city famous for its drunk tailors, huge gravestones of rabbis, horse owners and horse thieves, and most of all, for its stuffed and baked fish.’

In 1993 his family was granted political asylum by the United States and settled in Rochester. At the time he spoke no English and continued to write in Russian while learning English. ‘Traveling Musicians’ (2007) is a selection of his poems originally written in Russian.

Following his father’s death in 1994, Ilya began to write poems in English. In an interview he explained; ‘I chose English because no one in my family or friends knew it – no one I spoke to could read what I wrote. I myself did not know the language. It was a parallel reality, an insanely beautiful freedom. It still is.’

As someone who had to choose English, since no one around me spoke Croatian, those lines resonate strongly with me. Journey into another language, especially one very different in sound, syntax and structure to the one with which we first made ourselves heard, is a journey into one’s secret realm of being, the very core of existence. Whether we cherish words as admirers of literature and poetry, or simply use them in our day to day exchanges never giving them any other considerations; as humans we depend on them to confirm our presence. It is for that reason that all of those who toil on that journey found themselves profoundly changed by it.

In 2002 Ilya Kaminsky’s first poetry collection ‘Musica Humana’ was published. Only two years later, in 2004, second poetry collection; ‘Dancing in Odessa’ followed, winning number of significant awards. Ilya’s new manuscript; ‘Deaf Republic’ won the Pushcart Prize, and his poems have been translated into numerous languages. He is currently teaching at San Diego State University.

While it is quite true that I love almost all of Ilya’s poems, the one below I is very special to me.

Dancing in Odessa

In a city ruled jointly by doves and crows, doves covered the main

district, and crows the market. A deaf boy counted how many birds there

were in his neighbour’s backyard, producing a four-digit number. He dialled

the number and confessed his love to the voice on the line.

My secret; at the age of four I become deaf. When I lost my hearing,

I began to see voices. On a crowded trolley, a one-armed man said that my

life wold be mysteriously linked to the history of my country. Yet my

country cannot be found, its citizens meet in a dream to conduct elections.

he did not describe their faces, only a few names: Roland, Aladdin, Sinbad.


Author: Daniela

Reader, Writer, Mother, Freethinker, Habitual Day Dreamer, Blogger - Sharing Ideas, Poetry, Prose, and Conversations on the Lantern Post!

18 thoughts on “Dancing in Odessa”

      1. The cold season is about to end here, it has been quite cold last few months and now we are having short rains and a little sun.

        Keep well dear friend.


  1. This reminds me of my father, who was Hungarian. He was a smart man who learned to speak English, but never so well that he could write fluently as you do Daniela. But he left me with a love for the sounds of the Hungarian language and an appreciation for poetry that comes from the heart.


    1. My dear Dor; it does not surprise me at the slightest to learn that you have European heritage. With your natural sensitivity and love for the written word, it was to be expected! Hungary is a magnificent country, with proud, rich history and music to die for! I am glad your father made sounds of the Hungarian language alive for you, in doing so he widen your world and left a piece of himself in it.

      Many thanks for reading and commenting,

      Take Care,


    1. Thank you very much for reading and commenting.

      Ilya’s poems are very great indeed and he is also well known for his passionate public readings.

      All the Best,


  2. I have never read any of Ilya Kaminsky’s poems but he grew up in Odessa and was therefore raised on the writings of Ilya Il’f and Evgenii Petrov, particularly their beloved novel ‘The Twelve Chairs’.


    1. Thank you very much for reading and commenting Malcolm.

      I would say you are most likely correct; ‘The Twelve Chairs’ are well-known classic. Slavs really do have long and proud history of magnificent literature.



  3. I enjoyed this post as well. It amazes me when people who don’t speak English as their first language can, not only learn it, but master it, and produce such bounty. I guess that proves that it is not just the mechanics of putting one word in back of another, but the thoughts and experiences of the writer that shape the beauty of the words. Thanks for sharing about this remarkable young man, Daniela. 🙂


    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting Marsha -:)!

      Language is truly alive when one can convey emotions and experiences through it. Doing it in a different language makes it special.

      Best Wishes,


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