Visiting Writers’ Series: Ilya Kaminsky

Visiting Writers’ Series: Ilya Kaminsky

The Sound of Silence

by: Lingyue Zheng

“We are sitting in the audience, still. Silence, like a bullet that’s missed us, spins—”

This is how Ilya Kaminsky ends Act II in Deaf Republic. A dash branches out to unknown possibilities and promises only an agonized waiting. On the next page, a vertical line of symbols read: “town,” “the crowd watches,” “earth,” and “story,” standing like a pine tree, eluding what waits after that desperate dash.

Deaf Republic, the latest collection by Kaminsky, has ignited a nonstop conversation on silence and sound, tenderness and rage, violence and protest. The literary world has been captivated by Kaminsky’s unprecedented poetic intuition in the collection, since came out this March. Reading it line by line makes one marvel at Kaminsky’s decisions at each turn, appreciating his overarching insight and intricate design to connect poems throughout the collection. The restrained emotion displays precise imagery and propels the reader from page to page. Needless to say, Kaminsky’s adept language and emotional nuance enliven the characters on the page.

The grim political situation in Deaf Republic also knocks at our ears, asking: are you mute in the political turmoil and suffer in the country? And, what’s the difference between deafness and muteness? Here, Kaminsky designs his theatrical stage and allows each poem to intertwine and unfold, the effects of which strike some resemblance to Euripides’ The Trojan Women. The poems give readers a role in the audience, inviting them to witness, to hear, and to grieve. Euripides’ female characters’ wail on stage, whereas Kaminsky deafens his characters. Their fear, love, and hatred are simultaneously private and widely resonate.

Poets are magicians of words, and Kaminsky conjures up his own unique potions. When he talks about love, he makes us yearn for it; when he makes a point of deafness, even the slightest shred of silence has weight. Confined by a soundless boundary for more than a decade, Kaminsky recovered his hearing with the help of technology when he arrived in the U.S.; in Deaf Republic, deafness is an incurable disease. However, that deafness thrives and captivates us, forcing the reader to rethink how we define our social values.

Ilya Kaminsky was born in the former Soviet Union and is now an American citizen. He is the author of a previous poetry collection, Dancing in Odessa, and coeditor of the Eco Anthology of International Poetry. He has received a Whiting Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was named a finalist for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages.

Ilya Kaminsky will be participating in the Visiting Writers’ Series at American University on Wednesday, September 18, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. in the Abramson Family Founders Room, School of International Service.

Photo: Knowles, courtesy of the University of Arizona Poetry Center // Ilya Kaminsky (left) is the new director of Poetry@Tech. Kaminsky’s latest book (right), “Deaf Republic,” was released March 5.

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