Wednesday, April 23, 2014

poet of the week: Ilya Kaminsky

One day in 2004, I was contentedly wandering around in Pegasus Books in Berkeley when I came across a book of poetry titled Dancing in Odessa by Ilya Kaminsky. His poems are so expertly wrought, so tender and alive, it seemed like a book that would be important to me at that moment and a decade from then.

So I bought it and came to an event at Pegasus with the author. I came expecting to be enraptured, and it was in fact church. I still remember the stillness and the motion in the sound of his poetry as he read it. Quite remarkable for a poet whose first language is Russian, not English--and who's deaf.

It's 2014, and indeed, the writing still moves me in both new and familiar ways. Kaminsky creates works that show me how I've changed and grown as much as it shows me who he is himself.

Clearly I'm not alone in my appreciation:
"Like Joseph Brodsky before him, Kaminsky is a terrifyingly good poet, another poet from the former U.S.S.R. who, having adopted English, has come to put us native speakers to shame... It seemed to take about five minutes to read this book, and when I began again, I reached the end before I was ready. That's how compulsive, how propulsive it is to read. It wraps you in a world created by a new and wonderful poet." --The Philadelphia Inquirer

"With his magical style in English, poems inDancing In Odessa seem like 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 imagination is so transformative that we respond with equal measures of grief and exhilaration." --American Academy of Arts and Letters Citation for Metcalf Award

I want so much to share some of his work, but of course can't do that here. There's so much evocative, unforgettable imagery and phrasing that makes me want to read and read forever. Don't forget about this one next time you're in a bookstore or browsing titles online.

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