Saturday, March 15, 2008

Poet of the Moment: Ilya Kaminsky

picture via Washington Poets Association

I went to the KGB Bar Poetry Reading on Friday. These are my impressions of poet Ilya Kaminsky and his work:

Ilya Kaminsky is really tall. He has a man's walk but when he looks up, a boyish face. Standing over the microphone, at a podium far too small for him, his craned neck has a weird grace. But the most amazing thing about him is his voice. A Russian accent, and I have never heard such mutilated language. His voice quacks and screeches mournfully, chants and crescendos into a harsh whining shout. For closing stanzas, he drops to a low crooning tone that touches you forcefully yet gently. He passed out books of his poetry beforehand, so I read along and don't miss a word. In fact, his wacky voice speaks from print alone as forcefully and strangely as his tones in person, and the two complement each other perfectly.

Ilya Kaminsky troubles me. Troubles me first of all because I have never heard such a voice, and it is disconcerting. And his poetry is of a world I am completely unfamiliar with. What I do know of it I have discounted and brushed off as history past. His poems, at least the ones he read to us, deal with a Russia still stumbling out of the old Stalinist regime, a Russia still reeling from the memories. The way Kaminsky hears sounds, notices things, loves, cries, and sorrows is all completely foreign to me. It is disconcerting and troubling to stumble on a faded page of history book and discover in it senses I never knew. Troubling, but concurrently, wonderful.

Ilya Kaminsky's website:
His books are available here:

No comments: