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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. His second collection, Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004), received multiple awards, including the Dorset Prize and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Metcalf Award. Poems from a new manuscript, Deaf Republic, were awarded Poetry Magazine's Levinson Prize in 2009.

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, and the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in Poetry.

In the late 1990s, Kaminsky 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.

by this poet


Now each of us is
a witness stand:

Vasenka watches us watch four soldiers throw Alfonso Barabinski on the sidewalk.
We let them take him, all of us cowards.

What we don’t say
we carry in our suitcases, coat pockets, our nostrils.

On balconies, sunlight. On poplars, sunlight on our lips.
Today no one is shooting.
A girl cuts her hair with imaginary scissors—
the scissors in sunlight, her hair in sunlight.
Another girl steals a pair of shoes from a sleeping soldier, skewered with light.
As soldier wakes and
To your voice, a mysterious virtue, 
to the 53 bones of one foot, the four dimensions of breathing,  

to pine, redwood, sworn-fern, peppermint,  
to hyacinth and bluebell lily,  

to the train conductor’s donkey on a rope, 
to smells of lemons, a boy pissing splendidly against the trees.  

Bless each thing on