In 2021, the Academy of American Poets invited twelve poets to each curate a month of poems. In this short Q&A, Ilya Kaminsky discusses his curatorial approach and his own creative work.
How did you approach curating Poem-a-Day?
With delight, certainly. Is there another way?
If you could direct readers to one poem in our collection at Poets.org that you haven’t curated, what would it be and why?
Poets.org has such a various and wonderful collection that it takes me a very long time to get through it without stopping, saying hello, hugging, and buying this or that poetry line a drink or a lunch. Just so much goodness here to live with.
So, I didn’t get very far with this question, and in the end decided to stay relatively close in time: here is a poem by Tu Fu called The River Village. It was posted on August 7th of this year. It is translated by Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell. Why this particular poem you ask?
Because it is delicate and wise and has no ambition except exactly the right ambition to say hello to us across time. And we want to say hello back.
And, I picked it because I could overhear its exchange of hellos with other poems I love, for instance, this one: https://poets.org/poem/eating-
Notice the echo at the end. That is how poets say hello to each other as they ride their rafts on the river of time.
Anna Akhmatova called this “correspondences in the air” I call it a human chain of paper and flesh. Such “correspondences” are everywhere in your collection online: poets dialogue, they fight, they bow, they hug, sometimes in spite of themselves, because they live in a moment that reminds them of something old but makes odd new demands, and sometimes they do it because they love to sing. Look at a living poet and see: the momentary glimpses of the dead, they are alive again, endearing or obnoxious, humble or grieving, tender or stunned, in this space of a word.
Who are you reading right now?
Well, just now I was reading Tu Fu on your website, thank you very much. And that led to Li-Young Lee’s beautiful poem, also, thank you very much, on your website.
But then I just had to go Gerald Stern and Lucille Clifton, with their own conversations both with Lee’s lovely poems and there was a conversation overheard with King James edition and that led to other poets, which led to yet other poets. Because it is—all of it, this life of ours, and this poetry—a moveable feast, isn’t it?
What are you working on now in your writing, teaching, or publishing life?
Honestly, I think the time poets spend answering interview questions is a time away from poems. So right now I am working on getting back to my poem.