national poetry month, day 18.

I first came across Ilya Kaminsky through a review of Dancing in Odessa on The Female Gaze. I was smitten with both the poetry and the reviewer. What I’d really like to do is reproduce the entire book here, because it’s so much all of a piece; it feels like lessening a single poem to take it out of its context. Themes of immigration, displacement, love and music surface and interweave and disappear and reappear. The imagery is concrete, but there is an elusive quality to the whole – something always shifting or just ahead of sight. It’s incredibly beautiful. I can’t improve on Emma Aylor’s review, so you should just go read that.

Elegy for Joseph Brodsky
by Ilya Kaminsky

In plain speech, for the sweetness
between the lines is no longer important,
what you call immigration I call suicide.
I am sending, behind the punctuation,
unfurling nights of New York, avenues
slipping into Cyrillic–
winter coils words, throws snow on a wind.
You, in the middle of an unwritten sentence, stop,
exile to a place further than silence.


I left your Russia for good, poems sewn into my pillow
rushing towards my own training
to live with your lines
on a verge of a story set against itself.
To live with your lines, those where sails rise, waves
beat against the city’s granite in each vowel,–
pages open by themselves, a quiet voice
speaks of suffering, of water.


We come back to where we have committed a crime,
we don’t come back to where we loved, you said;
your poems are wolves nourishing us with their milk.
I tried to imitate you for two years. It feels like burning
and singing about burning. I stand
as if someone spat at me.
You would be ashamed of these wooden lines,
how I don’t imagine your death
but it is here, setting my hands on fire.

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