Ilya Kaminsky – ‘Deaf Republic’ – the Ukraine War

At a U3A Poetry meeting discussion ensued concerning the power of poetry compared to the power of factual reporting. We were considering Ilya Kaminsky’s … book ‘Deaf Republic’. Here are some enormously powerful lines from one of the poems in his book ...
 
That Map of Bone and Opened Valves 
 
I watched the Sergeant aim, the deaf boy take iron and fire in his mouth― 
his face on the asphalt, 
that map of bone and opened valves. 
It's the air. Something in the air wants us too much. 
The earth is still. 
The tower guards eat cucumber sandwiches. 
This first day 
soldiers examine the ears of bartenders, accountants, soldiers― 
the wicked things silence does to soldiers. 
They tear Gora's wife from her bed like a door off a bus. 
Observe this moment 
―how it convulses― 
The body of the boy lies on the asphalt like a paperclip. 
The body of the boy lies on the asphalt 
like the body of a boy. 
I touch the walls, feel the pulse of the house, and I 
stare up wordless and do not know why I am alive. 
We tiptoe this city, 
Sonya and I, 
between theaters and gardens and wrought-iron gates― 
Be courageous, we say, but no one 
is courageous, as a sound we do not hear 
lifts the birds off the water. 

Ilya Kaminsky (1977 -

Considering these three lines ...
The body of the boy lies on the asphalt like a paperclip. 
The body of the boy lies on the asphalt 
like the body of a boy.
We liked the removal of the paper-clip symbolism in the next line – the boy was like the body of a boy gives emphasis on the human being viewed, going from the poetic to the factual within the poem.

The poem is purely fictional or a poetic statement of the sort of thing that does happen considering inhumanity, and of course the Ukraine is in the public eye. But these words were written well before the invasion by Russia.

Here is a powerful 'factual statement' from The New Yorker media …

“Back at the police station, Fedorov endured long interrogation sessions. His captors pushed him to resign and transfer his authority to Danilchenko. Fedorov took the opportunity to ask what they were doing in his city. They had three explanations, he remembers: to defend the Russian language, to protect Ukrainians from Nazis, and to stop authorities from mistreating veterans of the Second World War. “It was all funny and absurd,” Fedorov said. He told the soldiers guarding him that ninety-five per cent of Melitopol’s residents speak Russian; that he has lived in the city all his life and has never seen a Nazi; and that, by his count, thirty-four veterans live in Melitopol, and he knows just about all of them personally, has their numbers saved in his phone, and tries to visit them often. But his captors seemed to take their imagined picture of an anti-Russian, fascist--ruled Ukraine seriously. ‘They repeated it like a mantra, over and over, as if they were zombies,’ Fedorov told me.
“An air of menace, even violence, was never far away. At night, Fedorov could hear the screams of people being tortured. The Russian soldiers said that they were Ukrainian saboteurs who had been captured in the city after curfew. At one point, Fedorov listened as a man in an adjoining cell shouted in agony; it sounded as if someone was breaking his fingers. ‘This was happening one metre away,’ Fedorov said. ‘What would stop them from coming to my cell and doing the same thing?’”

Power in words is always dependent on the reader or hearer, their emotional state at the time. But here are my thoughts …

The reporting does highlight reality in a factual statement compared to the artificiality of poetry. Both are powerful and thought provoking. Reality demands a response of some form – can we let this happen! Whereas poetry goes beyond actuality to give emphasis to that demand for change using language as a powerful word voice in effecting change. And in this case making us aware of what is happening far away from our individual lives because of the association with the terrible actuality of the Ukraine war.

Ilya Kaminsky a YouTube reading from his Deaf Republic book

Ilya Kaminsky on Wikipedia

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