Poetry in a Time of Crisis - Review

Posted on: 31 May 2023 by Tillie Bradshaw in Posts

Photo of Ilya Kaminsky

The Allott / Poetry Society Annual Lecture Series has been hosted by many international writers. Previously featured poets include Anne Carson, Valzhyna Mort, C K Williams, Jan Wagner and Terrance Hayes.

For this year’s lecture, Ilya Kaminsky, poet and author of Deaf Republic amongst other titles, delivered Poetry in a Time of Crisis, which explored how poetry is used in times of unrest. This took place in the Yoko Ono Centre’s beautiful Tung Auditorium, a large space which brought me back to huge lectures in my undergraduate degree, and a feeling of both intimacy and anonymity.

Ilya started his lecture by reflecting on his last visit to his hometown Odesa in Ukraine, and on what place his poetry books have in this place of war. He talked about the old Jewish graves there, and how the walls were now integrated with them, this juxtaposing image inspiring his work. This was a beautiful way to begin the lecture, listening to a story from Ilya which left me with the impression that I know him.

The focus on linguistics, the anxiety surrounding using the coloniser’s language in poets Paul Celan and M. NorbeSe Phillip and the translation of words was particularly interesting. We got to read along from a huge slide as Ilya read the poems. In her introduction Professor Sandeep Parmar said that you would never forget a reading from Ilya, and she was correct. It felt like theatre, every word a performance and his use of loud and quiet tones as he read was incredibly engaging. Yet it still had such a personal feel, as he threw in light-hearted jokes and spoke to us with a humorous tone, it was truly a lovely experience.

After the lecture, there was a Q and A session led by Professor Sandeep Parmar. This led to a discussion about the lyric, and what it means to Ilya. He explained how language played a part in his life, with the shifts he made from Yiddish to Ukrainian to Russian, as well as lip reading as his mother tongue. One audience member asked about the idea that silence is an invention of the hearing, to which Ilya responded with his own experiences of silence, and how for the D/deaf and hard of hearing, silence does not really exist, as communication can happen in the quiet. This was an incredibly thought provoking idea, and led nicely to a reading from Ilya’s own poetry from Deaf Republic.

Before the lecture started Ilya considered what his aims of the lecture were, and mentioned that he’d love to influence others’ poetry, and see that inspiration in others work. As a poet myself I loved this sentiment. Borrowing images and ideas from others is one of my favourite things about writing, the feeling of community and reading your influence in others work, and vice versa. I found myself particularly excited by M. NorbeSe Philip’s ‘Discourse on the Logic of Language’, and the changes she made in her poem as she transformed the phrase ‘foreign language’ to ‘foreign Anguish’; I found myself writing poems later that evening that used language in this way. So if this was Ilya’s intention, he definitely met it. I found the whole event inspired me as a poet and writer, and ideas from the lecture will surely be found in my work, and many others.

Ilya ended the lecture with the idea that the greatest poets are very private, and create their own language in which to speak privately to lots of people. This was a powerful point to end on, leaving the room with a feeling of intimacy; Ilya has spoken to us in his own private language, and now we can go on to do the same.


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