Ilya Kaminsky is Russian-Jewish-American, and was born in 1977 in Odessa in the former Soviet Union, before moving to Rochester, New York in 1993. Kaminsky lost the majority of his hearing at the age of four, and began writing poetry later in his youth. Disability is a theme in his most recent book of poetry, “Deaf Republic,” released in 2019.
“Deaf Republic” tells the story of a city occupied by soldiers, in the aftermath of the killing of a young deaf boy in a public square. In the book, the townspeople collectively protest by refusing to hear the soldiers, and learn sign language as a form of rebellion. Kaminsky read from the first act of the book in his performance.
David Biespiel, poet-in-residence at OSU and an organizer of the event, said, “This most recent book is a parable of a world in crisis. It’s an individual statement against authoritarianism, and it’s a statement in favor of imagination. No one writes like him, and few have created a book of this magnitude in 50 years.”
“Deaf Republic” is Kaminsky’s third book of poetry, subsequent to “Musica Humana” in 2002, and “Dancing in Odessa” in 2004. Additionally, Kaminsky has translated work by other authors into English and has contributed work to several anthologies of poetry.
“I felt very lucky that he was here. Something I admire about his poetry is that he speaks from equal parts head and heart,” said Jennifer Richter, assistant professor of English and creative writing at Oregon State.
The reading was also attended by many students and community members whose studies are entirely separate from poetry.
Shoroq Abdali, a third-year student in civil engineering at OSU, said, “I liked his tone and gestures while reading. The tone of his voice went up and down. It was real, you can relate to the poems. Coming from another country, there are some things I can’t relate to, but he gives you all the information you need.”
Kaminsky is currently a professor in the Creative Writing graduate program at San Diego State University.
After the book-signing, Kaminsky said, “Anybody who writes for a long time starts because they feel they have something to say, and continues because they fall in love with it. There’s something about the magic of language that allows you to be in company even when alone. What a pleasure it is to read at a place where so many people are in love with words.”