Kaminsky, Ilya 1977–
Kaminsky, Ilya 1977–
PERSONAL: Born 1977, in Odessa, USSR (now Ukraine); immigrated to United States, 1993. Education: Georgetown University, B.A.; graduated from law school, 2004.
CAREER: Poet. National Immigration Law Center and Bay Area Legal Aid, San Francisco, CA, served as law clerk. Poets for Peace, cofounder. Phillips Exeter Academy, George Bennett Fellow writer-in-residence, 1999–2000.
AWARDS, HONORS: Bunker Poetico selection, Venice Biennial, 2001; Dorset Prize, Tupelo Press, for Dancing in Odessa; Ruth Lilly fellowship, Poetry magazine; national Russian essay contest winner; Shephardi Prize for Poetry; Florence Kahn Memorial Award; Award for Excellence in Poetry, Milton Center; Chapbook Award, Southeast Review.
Musica Humana (chapbook), Chapiteau Press (South Stafford, VT), 2002.
Dancing in Odessa, Tupelo Press (Dorset, VT), 2004.
Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including New Republic, American Literary Review, Southwest Review, Tikkun, Salmagundi, DoubleTake, Mars Hill Review, and Southeast Review.
Also author of poetry in Russian.
SIDELIGHTS: Ukranian-born writer Ilya Kaminsky "is an uncommonly outward-looking poet," wrote John Timpane in a review of Kaminsky's Dancing in Odessa for the Philadelphia Inquirer, "and dislocation and loss seem to have deepened his sense of the preciousness of things." Kaminsky's poems "move through the lives of others … connecting the sweet and bitter stories of lost worlds," commented Library Journal reviewer E. M. Kaufman. His "poems are sometimes deliriously happy and sometimes full of horror, but they are always immense in their ideas and their reach," remarked Aviya Kushner, reviewing Kaminsky for the Jerusalem Post.
Kaminsky was born in Odessa, Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union. Deaf since the age of four, he and his family managed to leave the USSR and found asylum in the United States in 1993, when Kaminsky was fifteen years old. As a new immigrant to Rochester, New York, he faced the barriers of not knowing the language and becoming accustomed to a new country. As he later explained in an interview with Colleen Marie Ryor for the Adirondack Review online, there was little to do but write poems in his native Russian. Still, as he recalled, "arriving in Rochester was rather a lucky event—that place was a magical gift, it was like arriving to a writing colony, a Yaddo of sorts."
The death of Kaminsky's father a year after the family's arrival in America prompted him to switch from writing poetry in Russian to using the English language. "I could not write about his death in Russian—it would hurt my family," Kaminsky explained on his Home Page. "And above all, I could not make him into beautiful poems writing about his death in a language he taught me." Such a thing "somehow seemed immoral. That I could not allow myself. But I had to write, and English was my refuge." "English for me is an attempt to put life on a page—as much life as I can get there; details, intention," he added.
The title poem of Kaminsky's chapbook Musica Humana is an elegy to Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, who was destroyed by the Soviet gulag system after he wrote a poem criticizing Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Kaminsky lets Mandelstam himself speak through the poems, directly addressing both poet and reader and using the name Icarus. Kaminsky "achieves in this elegy a quiet grandeur," remarked Frank Wilson in a review for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Ace Boggess, writing on the Adirondack Review online, commented that Kaminsky "writes with a subtleness and depth that few modern poets ever fully realize. "Echoing this assessment, Wilson concluded that the poet "has a fine ear and a sharp eye. Above all, he has a purity of outlook that is akin to innocence—and every bit as appealing."
Dancing in Odessa, a prize-winning collection of Kaminsky's lyrical poetry, was described by a SmallSpiralNotebook.com reviewer as a "a joyous achievement. Passionate. Compassionate. Daring in its use of imaginative language." The book includes "Musica Humana" and several other works, among them "Natalia," a pair of love poems dedicated to Kaminsky's wife; "Traveling Musicians," a series of poems dedicated to poets such as Paul Celan and Joseph Brodsky; and "Praise," a poem that explores what the poet has lost and gained in the world.
In Dancing in Odessa Kaminsky "has written lovely, elliptical poems that draw on his personal history without dwelling on it," remarked Eric McHenry in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "There are poems here, many of them, that are almost unbearable in their beauty, places in the book where I can't bear to read longer because I want to stall in the moment the words have given me, to put down the book, to rest in the strength of the words," stated reviewer Patricia Fargnoli on the Valparaiso Poetry Review online. Dancing in Odessa, concluded a reviewer for Pedestal online, "is a collection full with ambition, intelligence, and passion; well-constructed with humor, whimsicality, and an unrelenting desire for the truth." Although much of his work is inspired loss and tragedy, as Kaminsky told Kushner: "I don't think it's a poet's job to witness only tragedy. I think it's a poet's job to witness joy in the world, no matter how much tragedy also exists."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Jerusalem Post, January 20, 2005, Aviya Kushner, "In Praise of Laughter" (interview).
Library Journal, September 15, 2004, E. M. Kaufman, review of Dancing in Odessa, p. 61; September 15, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, interview with Kaminsky, p. 61.
Philadelphia Inquirer, May 8, 2003, Frank Wilson, "Channeling a Persecuted Russian Poet," review of Musica Humana; June 2, 2004, John Timpane, "In His Memories of Odessa, a Poet Pays Tribute to His Forebears," review of Dancing in Odessa.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 10, 2004, Eric McHenry, "Ilya Kaminsky's Poetry Turns His Losses into Gifts to Readers."
Adirondack Review Online, http://www.adirondackreview.com/ (April 21, 2005), Colleen Marie Ryor, interview with Kaminsky; Ace Boggess, review of Musica Humana.
Ilya Kaminsky Home Page, http://www.ilyakaminsky.com (April 21, 2005).
Pedestal Online, http://www.pedestalmagazine.com/ (April 21, 2005), Jeannine Hall Gailey, review of Dancing in Odessa.
Poetry Daily Web site, http://www.poems.com/ (April 21, 2005).
SmallSpiralNotebook.com, http://www.smallspiralnotebook.com/ (April 21, 2005), Gwendolyn Mintz, review of Dancing in Odessa.
Tupelo Press Web site, http://www.tupelopress.com/ (April 21, 2005).
Valparaiso Poetry Review Online, http://www.valpo.edu/english/vpr/ (April 21, 2005), Patricia Fargnoli, review of Dancing in Odessa.