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Posts Tagged ‘Deaf Republic’

I first heard of Ilya Kaminsky in a Poetry Unbound podcast episode. Commentator Pádraig Ó Tuama said he read Deaf Republic three times on the airplane flying home to Dublin. Three times! I thought that would not be me. I don’t usually read books more than once, but when I bought it on Kindle, I had to read it at least twice to have any kind of understanding. In pulling together this post, I’ve read many of the poems a third time.

Deaf Republic is not a book of poems for kids or for the faint of heart, even. It was a difficult book. Violence and sex are not topics I choose to read, but I became intrigued by the characterization of deafness and sign language. The townspeople, after witnessing the shooting of a deaf boy, use an assumed deafness and create a sign language as opposition to the occupying forces.

I’ve learned that Ilya Kaminsky is deaf himself. It’s important to know this when listening to him read. I had a chance to see him present in the Poetry Teachers Institute from the Poetry Foundation last week.

The poem I’ve chosen to feature today is “Alfonso Stands Answerable”.

Alfonso Stands Answerable

My people, you were really something fucking fine
on the morning of first arrests:

our men, once frightened, bound to their beds, now stand up like human masts—
deafness passes through us like a police whistle.

Here then I
testify:

each of us
comes home, shouts at a wall, at a stove, at a refrigerator, at himself. Forgive me, I

was not honest with you,
life—

to you I stand answerable.
I run etcetera with my legs and my hands etcetera I run down Vasenka Street etcetera—

Whoever listens:
thank you for the feather on my tongue,

thank you for our argument that ends, thank you for deafness,
Lord, such fire

from a match you never lit.

Ilya Kaminsky, Deaf Republic

There is so much to notice in this poem. I notice the varying line lengths, first person narrative, and a strong simile is “deafness passes through us like a police whistle.”

A craft move that I would not consider in my own poetry because of the possibility of confusion is the direct address to different characters outside of the poem. “I was not honest with you, life–” and then “Whoever listens” To whom is the narrator testifying to? me, the reader? or the enemy?

I also wonder about the word “etcetera” repeated. I like the way it sounds when read aloud. But why, when the line means the same without the word?

This poem lands with power. As a poet, I rarely hit that mark.

I wonder about using this poem to teach poetry. For my students, I would remove the curse word and draw attention to repetition as a craft move and wonder about the word “answerable”. What does it mean? Why is the narrator answerable?

Honestly, the more I wonder about, the less I know. I probably need to read the book again.

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