Sunday, February 05, 2006

Dancing In Odessa by Ilya Kaminsky

David turned me on to this poet back in October. I finally received the book through Amazon in early January, and read it straight through during a busy crazy week when I had no time to post anything of significance. I was saving ideas for a lengthy review, but since have passed on to other things. David's mini-review is in any case so well crafted and has such interesting links that that it seems almost redundant to say more -- except read this amazing poet! For starters, I'll post this poem here, which begins his collection. Astonishing that someone born in 1977, who spoke no English until about 10 years ago when he immigrated to the US from Russia with his family, and who besides all that has been deaf since the age of 4, could compose word-music in his adopted language of such wondrous skill and depth:

AUTHOR’S PRAYER by Ilya Kaminsky

If I speak for the dead, I must
leave this animal of my body,

I must write the same poem over and over
for the empty page is a white flag of their surrender.

If I speak of them, I must walk
on the edge of myself, I must live as a blind man

who runs through the rooms
without touching the furniture.

Yes, I live. I can cross the streets asking, “What year is it?”
I can dance in my sleep and laugh

in front of the mirror.
Even sleep is a prayer, Lord,

I will praise your madness, and
in a language not mine, speak

of music that wakes us, music
in which we move. For whatever I say

is a kind of petition, and the darkest days
must I praise.


C. Dale said...

Ilya is a very good poet, and he is also a very good person. He is also a lawyer by day working at a non-profit legal defense fund.

Anne Haines said...

I bought Kaminsky's book a while back, after hearing several bloggers rave about it, and was quite blown away by it. "Author's Prayer" is one of my favorite poems of the last few years, I think. You can hear him read this poem, and several others, over at From the Fishouse -- it's well worth the listen.

Anthony Robinson said...

I'm not doubting he's a good poet, but why is this particular poem remarkable?

It could be just me, but this is seems familiar, flat, exactly NOT what I'd look for in a poem to "blow me away."

Brian Campbell said...

Well, you could be God, for whom in his supposed omnniscience nothing is surprising -- or one of the pieces of furniture the blind man runs past without touching. (Just one breathtaking thing about this poem, that image...)

Snarkiness aside, tho, it just shows to go ya once again that any given poem (or work of art for that matter) cannot claim to be universal but only archetypal; some are affected by the archetype, and others are left absolutely cold. I naively assumed (once again, and I never seem to be disabused of this naivity, in relation to my own poems too, some would say especially) that this poem's quality pretty well spoke for itself. But it turns out not to be true. Which is both heartening, and humbling in its way.

Cheers! And I hasten to add, this is not to be disrespectful of you, mon cher poète de la SINCÉRITÉ!

Amanda Auchter said...

Dancing in Odessa is one of my recently most-favorite books. I'm so glad that you love it. Ilya is a wonderful person and such an amazing poet!

Pris said...

I love this poem! The comments just show that what's one man's delicacy is another man's bag of turnips...

Kober said...

It would be wonderful to not know what year it was. Even better to not care.