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Ilya Kaminsky

1977–

Born on April 18, 1977, Ilya Kaminsky was raised in Odessa, Ukraine, the former Soviet Union. At age four, he lost most of his hearing after a misdiagnosis. He arrived in the United States in 1993, when his family was granted asylum by the American government. He earned his BA from Georgetown University, and went on to receive his JD from the University of California, Hastings College of Law.

Kaminsky's first book in English, Musica Humana, was published by Chapiteau Press in 2002. He is also the author of Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019) and Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004), which received multiple awards, including the Dorset Prize and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Metcalf Award.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters described his poems as "a literary counterpart to Chagall in which laws of gravity have been suspended and colors reassigned, but only to make everyday reality that much more indelible." His poetry has been compared to work by Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, and Marina Tsvetaeva.

Kaminsky's awards and honors include the Lannan Literary Fellowship, the Whiting Writers' Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship, the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in Poetry, and a 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2019, he received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, which recognizes distinguished poetic achievement.

In the late 1990s, he co-founded Poets For Peace, an organization that sponsors poetry readings in the United States and abroad. He has also taught at San Diego State University and worked as a Law Clerk at the National Immigration Law Center and at Bay Area Legal Aid, helping the poor and homeless to overcome their legal difficulties. He holds the Margaret T. and Henry C. Bourne Jr Chair in Poetry and directs the [email protected] Program at Georgia Tech.

Selected Bibliography

Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019)
Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004)
Musica Humana (Chapiteau Press, 2002)

By This Poet

9

After Bombardment, Sonya

I scrub and lather him like a salmon
until he spits 
soapy water. "Pig" I smile—

This man smells better than his country
I throw his shoes 
and glasses in the air,

take off his t-shirt and socks, and kneel 
in honor of Sasha Petrov 
who was amputated, in honor of Lesha Vatkii the taken.

I dip a glass in a bath-tub,
drink dirty water.
Soaping together—that 

is sacred to me. Washing mouths together. 
You can fuck 
anyone—but with whom can you sit in water?

And the cuddling up
before sleep!—and back-scratching
in the morning. My back, not yours!

I knew I had caught the fish            
and he knew he had been caught. 
He sings as I dry his chest & penis

"Sonya, I was a glad man with you—"

A Toast

To your voice, a mysterious virtue, 
to the 53 bones of one foot, the four dimensions of breathing,  

to pine, redwood, sworn-fern, peppermint,  
to hyacinth and bluebell lily,  

to the train conductor’s donkey on a rope, 
to smells of lemons, a boy pissing splendidly against the trees.  

Bless each thing on earth until it sickens,  
until each ungovernable heart admits: “I confused myself   

and yet I loved—and what I loved  
I forgot, what I forgot brought glory to my travels,  

to you I traveled as close as I dared, Lord.” 

Town Watches Them Take Alfonso

Now each of us is
a witness stand:

Vasenka watches us watch four soldiers throw Alfonso Barabinski on the sidewalk.
We let them take him, all of us cowards.

What we don’t say
we carry in our suitcases, coat pockets, our nostrils.

Across the street they wash him with fire hoses. First he screams,
then he stops.

So much sunlight—
a t-shirt falls off a clothes line and an old man stops, picks it up, presses it to his face.

Neighbors line up to watch him thrown on a sidewalk like a vaudeville act: Ta Da.
In so much sunlight—

how each of us
is a witness stand:

They take Alfonso
And no one stands up. Our silence stands up for us.