poem index


Ilya Kaminsky

1977- , Odessa , Ukraine
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Born on April 18, 1977, Ilya Kaminsky was raised in Odessa, Ukraine, the former Soviet Union. At age four, he lost most of his hearing after a misdiagnosis. He arrived in the United States in 1993, when his family was granted asylum by the American government. He earned his BA from Georgetown University, and went on to receive his JD from the University of California, Hastings College of Law.

Kaminsky's first book in English, Musica Humana, was published by Chapiteau Press in 2002. He is also the author of Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019) and Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004), which received multiple awards, including the Dorset Prize and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Metcalf Award.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters described his poems as "a literary counterpart to Chagall in which laws of gravity have been suspended and colors reassigned, but only to make everyday reality that much more indelible." His poetry has been compared to work by Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, and Marina Tsvetaeva.

Kaminsky's awards and honors include the Lannan Literary Fellowship, the Whiting Writers' Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship, the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in Poetry, and a 2019 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In the late 1990s, he co-founded Poets For Peace, an organization that sponsors poetry readings in the United States and abroad. He has also taught at San Diego State University and worked as a Law Clerk at the National Immigration Law Center and at Bay Area Legal Aid, helping the poor and homeless to overcome their legal difficulties. He holds the Margaret T. and Henry C. Bourne Jr Chair in Poetry and directs the [email protected] Program at Georgia Tech.

Selected Bibliography

Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019)
Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004)
Musica Humana (Chapiteau Press, 2002)

by this poet

I scrub and lather him like a salmon
until he spits 
soapy water. "Pig" I smile—

This man smells better than his country
I throw his shoes 
and glasses in the air,

take off his t-shirt and socks, and kneel 
in honor of Sasha Petrov 
who was amputated, in honor of Lesha Vatkii the taken.

I dip a glass in a

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the


Such is the story made of stubbornness and a little air—
a story signed by those who danced wordless before God.
Who whirled and leapt. Giving voice to consonants that rise
with no protection but each other’s ears.
We are on our bellies in this quiet, Lord.

Let us