Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing Lyric

There is much to admire and learn from in Ilya Kaminsky's Dancing In Odessa. Above all, there is bravery. Kaminsky weaves through a hybrid of forms and--more than just precluding poetry sections with introductory prose--in this book he includes anecdotes, recipes and even a list of new "definitions" for English words. What emerges is a kind of personal and cultural impasto--broad, thick strokes of lyrical "thoughts."

This passage comes toward the end:

Then my mother begins to dance, re-arranging
this dream. Her love

is difficult; loving her is as simple as putting raspberries
in my mouth.

On my brother's head: not a single
gray hair, he is singing to his twelve-month-old son.

And my father is singing
to his six-year-old silence.

This is how we live on earth, a flock of sparrows.
The darkness, a magician, finds quarters

behind our ears. We don't know what life is,
who makes it, the reality is thick

with longing. We put it up to our lips
and drink.

Couplets add energy and weight to this poem, since you are always either at the start or the end of a verse. The couplets in this passage, like so many of the poems in this book, eschew narrative in favor of impression and association. Quick shifts from thought to thought are balanced against a sense of unification--these are not random images, but carefully chosen pairings of diaphoric metaphor. Here is a coherence that is not so much plot- or idea-based, as something that rings true on an impressionistic level.

Though crafted, these poems are also bold. This is also definitely a book of poems that works together as a whole. Kaminsky's poems in this book seem to feed off each other, and I see how certain individual poems I'd be reticent to call powerful in their own right do, in fact, move me and carry me along in this larger project. More than anything, here is a poet my own age writing poems that make me say, "Yes!" Thanks to Sandra for recommending this work.

§ § §