“Republic of Deafness” by Ilya Kaminsky: Happiness in times of war – Culture

Such a touching political poem was not written for a long time. “We lived happily during the war,” the all-round disturbing opening poem of Ilya Kamensky’s book of poems “The Republic of the Deaf,” published in 2019, has been on various social media channels for weeks and is valid as a poem for an hour.

It seems as if the basic poetic symbol for dealing with the war in Ukraine has suddenly been found. But is it really a poetic display of recognition for us as observers of what is happening, who have survived the reality of war? The opening lines in this epic poem by the Ukrainian American writer seem to refer to the case of impotent protest: “And when they bombed each other’s homes / We protested / But not enough, We were against, but not enough.”

Two perspectives are opened here: not only the deadly war zones are defined, but also the attitudes of spectators to the events of the war. America that “perishes” in the opening poem is a symbol of the capitalist societies of the West, where happiness dwells even in times of war comfortably: “In money street in money country in money country great money country we lived (forgive us) / happily during the war “.

With a bitter irony, Ilya Kamensky refers to the privileged position of horror viewers. While bombings and killings occur elsewhere, those who have not been directly affected by the reality of war continue to enjoy their healthy environment.

New literary beginnings abroad

Born in 1977 in Odessa, Ukraine, Kaminsky was raised in a Jewish family and became hard of hearing as a child due to mumps. In 1993 he left Ukraine with his family because anti-Semitic provocations were increasingly affecting the Jewish citizens of Odessa. The family was granted political asylum in California, and immigration for Kaminsky was a new literary beginning.

From 1994 he wrote his poems in English. Already due to his volume “Dance in Odessa” from 2004, Kaminsky has been celebrated in the United States as a “frighteningly wonderful poet” and the affinity of Joseph Brodsky and Adam Zagagosky. With “Deaf Republic”, he climbed even further in the literary ranking: his poem was declared “Best Book of the Year” by the “New York Times”, among others.

It took some time before the masterpiece of The Deaf Republic was able to reveal its sensational influence in Germany. In 2019, translator and poet Dagmara Krause translated some poems from the volume “The Republic of the Deaf” for the “Verssmuggel” project of the House of Poetry in Berlin.

The pioneering work of Clack Verlag in Neukölln, which in the same year was published in Kaminsky’s volume “Tanzen in Odessa” in the translation of Alexander Sitzman, received little response.

Thanks to the poet and storyteller Anja Kampmann, “Deaf Republic” is finally available in an accurate German translation that does not shorten the cyclically structured and sequence-formed poem of theatrical scenes to political clarity, but instead shortens the contradiction and double meaning of the memorized verses.

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“Republic of Deafness” takes us directly to the scenario of a permanent state of war. On the market square in the fictional town of Vasenka, occupied by a hostile force, two puppeteers organize a small and interesting puppet theater in the middle of an emergency.

Immediately, authority enforcers who are ready to dismantle the illegal assembly rush in. A deaf boy was shot dead by soldiers.

The typical setup for a career is outlined here with just a few lines. In “First Verb” he speaks a collective theme, the chorus of great denial. Protesting citizens only communicate in sign language. Meanwhile, the shameful murder of a deaf boy leads to more crimes. And doll-motor Sonia, who gave birth to a baby girl, also falls victim to the invaders, as well as her husband Alfonso, who at first remains single with the newborn.

What begins as a grandiose rejection of opposition to the oppression of the occupier turns into radical partisanship in the poem’s “second act.” Moma Galya, the owner of a puppet theater, leads the uprising against the occupation, tempting soldiers with acts of love only to strangle them. Violence begets counter-violence, and there is no room for understanding.

“We are watching. Watch the others are watching.”

What remains are traumas and wounds that never heal: “Our country is a country in which a boy who was killed by the police for hours lies / On the sidewalk. / We see in his open mouth / The nakedness of a whole nation. / We watch. Watch / Watch others.”

The declared “peace time” at the end is nothing but a preparation for the next fatal blow. Language and speech themselves act as instruments of control and are subject to a strict logic of violence: “Silence? / She is a stick with which I will beat you, / I will beat you with a stick, / With a voice, I will beat you, / Until you speak, until you say / The right thing. “

Ilya Kamensky worked in his “Republic of Deafness” for about ten years. They are poems at times fiction, then succinct and succinct, and poetic parables of the violent relations exacerbated today by the Ukraine War, but they also refer to the imperialist traditions of the West. Among the poems are signs of sign language, such as moments of breathing meditation.

Kaminsky explained in an interview that the hope in his poems is to get rid of the reader’s delusions and help him “recognize his complicity.” Its aesthetic in resistance is characterized by many constructed doors.

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