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.
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.