Poetry of Silence: 2019 National Book Festival

>>Rob Casper: Hello
everyone, great to see you out here tonight, or this
afternoon I should say, almost evening. It’s been an amazing
National Book Festival here at the Poetry and
Prose Pavilion. I’m excited to introduce
this next 4 o’clock event, The Poetry of Silence with
Sheila Black and Ilya Kaminsky. My name is Rob Casper,
I’m the head of the Poetry and Literature Center at
the Library of Congress. We are home to the U.S. Poet
Laureate and promote poets and writers all throughout the
year at the library and beyond. We have a big reading coming
up with the U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, on September 19th,
we hope you show up there. But in the meantime, you’re
going to have a wild 45 minutes with our two featured authors. Since 2017 this pavilion
has featured pairings of literary writers, reading
their work and participating in conversations,
however, for this event, as opposed to the
events throughout the day where we had Library of
Congress and National Endowment for the Arts staff moderate
a discussion, we’ve decided to take a different approach,
featuring Ilya Kaminsky in conversation with
Sheila Black, recipient of the Library’s
Witter Bynner Fellowship in 2012. Black is the author of
four poetry collections, most recently Iron, Ardent, published by Educe
Press in 2017. She’s also co-edited two
anthologies, Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability,
and The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked: The Fiction
of Disability. The former executive
director of Gemini Inc. Black currently serves as
director of development at the Association of
Writers and Writing Programs, and divides her time between
Washington DC and San Antonio. Ilya Kaminsky self-injurious
the author of two poetry collections,
including Deaf Republic, published this March
by Graywolf Press. He has also co-edited and
co-translated many other books, including; The Echo Anthology
of International Poetry and Dark Elderberry Branch:
Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva. His awards include fellowships
from the Unusual Endowment for the Arts, the
[inaudible] Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as the Whiting Writers
Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters
Metcalf Award, and Poetry Magazine’s,
Levinson Prize. He’s a professor of poetry
and a program director, oops, you’re no longer at San
Diego State University. He is a professor of poetry at Georgia Tech University
in Atlanta. Please join me in
welcoming first Sheila Black and Ilya Kaminsky. [ Applause ] [ Ambient Noise ]>>Sheila Black: Good
afternoon, hi everybody. I feel like I need a
little stool for the podium. I’m quite small. It’s 4 o’clock so I thought we
could all begin with a big round of applause for the wonderful
Amy Stolls and Jessica Flynn and everybody else at
the NEA for putting on this amazing festival. Yay. [ Applause ] And what we’re going to do
this afternoon is we’re going to start, I’m going to begin
by reading a few poems, then Ilya’s going to
follow by reading some poems from his wonderful Deaf
Republic, and then we’re going to have a conversation. So, today what I thought I’d do
is, I’m going to read one poem of my own, but I was really
lucky this year and I’m standing on my tip toes, I hope
you all can’t tell. Oh, you’re a sweetie, okay. Now I’m not on my tip toes. I was really fortunate
this year because myself and a fellow poet,
Jennifer Bartlett, and another fellow
poet, Connie Voisine, decided to start a nonprofit
that would be a conference for writers with disabilities,
in the model of kind of Cave Canem, where people
come to learn and teach. And we had eleven fellows, the fellows stay
with us for 3 years. And it was the most
amazing experience, we had eleven writers
with disabilities from across the country
and one guy who came from across the Atlantic,
traveling by wheelchair, well not by wheelchair
but with his wheelchair, all the way from
Yorkshire, England. So, when I got this stage,
they put together an anthology of the work they produced
in the residency and they’re so exciting and such
wonderful poets, I thought I’d just read
a few of their words. So, I’m going to start with, and I just discovered I
need glasses, you know, the last time I came
up on a poetry stage, I hadn’t quite mastered the fact that I’m actually
near-sighted at this point. You know, a byproduct of age. And I got on stage
and I was having to hold the book 2
inches from my face. So it was a lesson. I’m going to start with one
our fellows, this poem is by Elizabeth Dario, she’s a
young writer from Louisiana, and it’s called, Take
Me to Your Leader. I want to need my
body less, yes, I am ready for the
alien overlords with their cybernetic parts
who lower me into a tank of strange luminescent fluid,
connect wires and press buttons, and upload my brain while
all might non-renewable, perishables are replaced
with indestructible metals; sturdy yet pliant
synthetic skin, nerves, other intestinal bits. Maybe I’ll still even shit like
one of those Baby Born dolls, or maybe I’ll be like a vampire
whose particular mythos allows her to still eat for
fun, because yes, I want all the good
parts of being in a body. The tastes and smells
and pleasures of other life forces inside me. Masticated, caressed,
the best of both worlds. To live and never die. I will tell the aliens,
look I can write poems, I am writing this for you. Please value me. Please save what I never could. [ Applause ] And I’d like to read all
the poems from this work, unfortunately I just
have to pick a selection. This poem is by a poet called
Margaret Ricketts [phonetic], she has cerebral palsy,
she’s from Kentucky. I think that coming to San Antonio she told me
was the first time she’s left her state. And her poem is called
Fala, and it’s named after the most photographed
dog of the 1940’s. I am a dog of blackout curtains
who sniffs at the somber hive of sharp, creased, pant legs. I ballooning with
the man on wheels who rubs my neck exactly right. At sea, sailors snip my
coat, we live in rooms of the blocked out sun. When he slides from the
chair, long, useless bones, I am the only creature
present, smelling his ear, offering my damp, callow nose. [ Applause ] And one of the things that
happened at this workshop that I really loved, this
residency, conference, it was really a residency. Was the eleven poets all started
to write poems in response to each other’s poems. We really formed a pretty
tight community in this 4 days. And it was kind of
crazy, because we were in this wonderful school,
Our Lady of the Lake, that tried its hardest,
but was really not an accessible building. So I have somewhat of a
mobility, you know, disability, I was born with something called
xlink type hypophosphatemia. I don’t absorb phosphorus and
it results in reduced stature, weakened bones, and curved legs. But I was the one who, the
wheelchair accessible ramp was like three football fields
away from the classroom we were in so all of us were running up
and down and it could have been, it really taught me
something about how spaces in institutions really
were built without disabled people present. A kind of absence or silence. But out of all that, we formed a
tight community, so this poem is by the guy who came from
Yorkshire, and it’s called, When We Say Goodbye,
We Talk Too Fast. A poem that talks to the
poems of [foreign name], Zoe Stohler [phonetic], Naomi
Ortez, Stephanie [inaudible], and Margaret Ricketts. Silence asks for two shots,
oat milk, extra hot, the usual. The day is four hours out
of bed, but you wake only when caffeine has been consumed. You take the reusable in
both hands, wrapped fingers around warming plastic, like a hungry body stretched
across the shoreline. The coffee speaks, tomorrow, turn away from the sun,
look toward the moon. I inhale four, self-measured
goodbyes. Later, when the caffeine has
left, I watch you, my ritual. You stand in the bedroom
that’s actually an office, but really where we
keep our laundry, you take out hair grips,
which you won’t find again. Remove dance class
litter, moisturize. You do all this while
gazing out the window at the lighthouse beam, 250
thousand miles from earth. Your ritual. Tomorrow a passport apart,
when I look past rooftops and connect night sky dots,
our shadows will join. Next week, we’ll be alive. [ Applause ] And the last poem I’m
going to read is by me, and it was the first poem I ever
wrote about having a disability. And I was about 40 years
old, and with my XLH, I had very crooked legs
as a small child and then when I was 13, I had a large
surgery called a double osteotomy, where they break
your legs in repeated places and they pivot the knee, they
pivot the whole kind of shape of the bone to sort of give
you a straighter appearance. And it was really
interesting, because I went from being a very visibly
disabled person to a person that really could
almost seem not disabled, and that’s what this
poem is about. What You Mourn. The year they straightened my
legs, the young doctor said, meaning to be kind, now
you will walk straight on your wedding day. But what he could not imagine
is how even on my wedding day, I would arch back and wonder about that body I had
before I was changed. How I would have nested
in it, made it my home. How I repeated his words
when I wished to stir up my native anger, feel like
the exile I believed I was, imprisoned in a foreign body
like a person imprisoned in a foreign land, forced to speak a strange
tongue, heavy in the mouth. A mouth full of stones. Crippled they called
us when I was young. Later, the word was disabled
and then differently abled, but these were all names
given by outsiders, none of whom could have imagined that the crooked
body they spoke of, the body which made
walking difficult and running practically
impossible, except as a kind of dance. A sideways looping, like
someone about to fall headlong down and hug the earth. That body they tried
so hard to fix, straighten, was simply mine. And I loved it as you
love your own country. The familiar lay of the
land, the unkempt trees, the smell of mowed grass,
down to the nameless flowers at your feet; Clever, Asphodel, and the blue flies
that buzz over them. Thank you. [ Applause ] [ Ambient Noise ]>>Ilya Kaminsky;
Thank you so much for that beautiful
reading, thank you. It’s truly an honor to be
able to thank the Library of Congress National
Endowment for the Arts for making this gathering
possible. I’m so grateful to
be here, thank you. Thank you all for
being in this room. So I’m going to read some
poems from Deaf Republic. I’m really going to
read about three poems, two of them are very short
and one rather longer. There will be text on the
screen so you can follow, as you might have
noticed by now, I speak with a very
heavy Russian accent. So hopefully by the end
of the next 24 hours that we’ll spend together,
you will all also speak with a very heavy
Russian accent. But for this side of the
room, since it might be harder to follow on the screen, I
believe you all have the copy of the handout, right? Okay, great. Thank you all again. The first poem is called, We
Lived Happily During the War. [ Ambient Noise ] We lived happily during the war, and when they bombed other
people’s houses, we protested, but not enough, we opposed
them, but not enough. I was in my bed around my
bed America was falling; invisible house by invisible
house by invisible house. I took a chair outside
and watched the sun. In the sixth month of a
disastrous reign in the house of money, in the street of
money, in the city of money, in the country of money,
our great country of money, we forgive us, lived
happily during the war. [ Applause ] Let’s not clap, they’re just
poems so I’ll just read them, you don’t have to clap, okay. What is going to follow
now is a series of poems from Deaf Republic,
they’re mostly from the part one of the book. It is a story of a pregnant
woman and her husband, who live in the middle crisis. They witness a soldier
shoot and kill a deaf boy, and in a response
to that murder, the people of the town
protest by refusing to hear the [inaudible]. Okay. So Deaf Republic, the
first one’s called, Gunshot. Gunshot. Gunshot. Our country is the stage. When soldiers march into town, public assemblies are
officially prohibited. But today, neighbors flock
to the piano music from Sonya and Alfonso’s puppet
show in Central Square. Some of us have climbed
up into trees, others hide behind benches
and telegraph poles. When Petya, the deaf boy
in the front row, sneezes, the sergeant puppet
collapses, shrieking. He stands up again,
snorts, shakes his fist at the laughing audience. An army jeep swerves
into the square, disgorging its own Sergeant. Disperse immediately! Disperse immediately! the puppet mimics in
a wooden falsetto. Everyone freezes except
Petya, who keeps giggling. Someone claps a hand
over his mouth. The Sergeant turns toward
the boy, raising his finger. You! You! The puppet
raises a finger. Sonya watches her puppet, the
puppet watches the Sergeant, the Sergeant watches Sonya
and Alfonso, but the rest of us watch Petya lean
back, gather all the spit in his throat, and
launch it at the Sergeant. The sound we do not hear
lifts the gulls off the water. As Soldiers March, Alfonso
covers the boy’s face with a newspaper. Fourteen people, most of us
strangers, watch Sonya kneel by Petya shot in the
middle of the street. She picks up his spectacles
shining like two coins, balances them on his nose. Observe this moment–
how it convulses– Snow falls and the dogs run
into the streets like medics. Fourteen of us watch:
Sonya kisses his forehead– her shout a hole
torn in the sky, it shimmers the park
benches, porch lights. We see in Sonya’s open mouth the
nakedness of the whole nation. She stretches out beside
the little snowman napping in the middle of the street. As, picking up its
belly, the country runs. Alfonso, in Snow. You are alive, I
whisper to myself, therefore something
in you listens. Something runs down the
street, fall, fails to get up. I run, et cetera, with my legs and my hands behind my
pregnant wife, et cetera, down Vasenka Street I run,
it only takes a few minutes, et cetera, to make a man. Deafness, an Insurgency, Begins. Our country woke up next morning
and refused to hear soldiers. In the name of Petya, we refuse. At six a.m., when
soldiers complement girls in the alleyways, the girls
slide by pointing to their ears. At eight, the bakery door is
shut in soldier Ivanoff’s face, though he’s their best customer. At ten, Momma Galy chalks, No
One Hears You, on the gates of the soldiers’ barracks. By eleven a.m. arrests begin. Our hearing does not weaken, but something silent
in us strengthens. After curfew, families of the arrested hang homemade
puppets out of their windows. The streets empty but for the
squeaks of strings and the tap, tap, against the buildings,
of wooden fists and feet. In the ears of the
town, snow falls. Alfonso Stands Answerable. My people, you were really
something fucking fine on the morning of
the first arrests. Our men, once frightened
and 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 wasn’t
honest with you. Life, to you I stand answerable. I run et cetera, with my
legs and my hands, et cetera, the run down Vasenka Street
et cetera, whoever listens, thank you, for the
feather on my tongue. Thank you, for our
argument that ends. Thank you, for the
deafness, Lord, such fire from a
match you never lit. 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 valve. It’s in 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 theatres 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. Before the War, We Made a Child. I kissed a woman whose
freckles arouse the neighbors. She had a mole on her
shoulder, which she displayed like medals for bravery. Her trembling lips
meant come to bed. Her hair waterfalling
in the middle of the conversation
meant come to bed. I walked in my barbershop of
thoughts, yes, I thieved her off to bed on the chair
of my hairy arms, but parted lips meant
bite my parted lips, lying under the cool
sheets, Sonya. The things we did. Soldiers Aim at Us. Soldiers Aim at Us. They fire as the crowd of
women flees inside the nostrils of searchlights, may God
have a photograph of this. In the piazza’s bright air,
soldiers drag Petya’s body and his head bangs the stairs. I feel through my wife’s
shirt, the shape of our child. Soldiers drag Petya up the
stairs and homeless dogs, thin as philosophers, understand
everything and bark and bark. I, now on the bridge, with
no camouflage of speech, a body wrapping the body
of my pregnant wife. Tonight, we don’t die, and
don’t die, the earth is still. A helicopter eyeballs my wife. On earth, a man cannot
flip a finger at the sky because each man is already
a finger flipped at the sky. Lullaby. Little daughter,
rainwater, snow and branches protect you. White-washed walls and
neighbors’ hands, also. Child of my Aprils little
earth of six pounds. My white hair keeps
your sleep lit. [ Ambient Noise ] While the Child Sleeps,
Sonya Undresses. She scrubs me until
I spit soapy water. “Pig,” she smiles. “A man should smell
better than his country.” Such is the silence of a woman
who speaks against silence, knowing silence is
what moves us to speak. She throws my shoes
and glasses in the air. “I am of deaf people and I
have no country but a bathtub and an infant and
a marriage bed!” Soaping together,
that is sacred to us. Washing each other’s shoulders. You can fuck anyone, but with
whom can you sit in water? 4 AM Bombardment. My body runs in Arlemovsk
Street, my clothes in a pillowcase. I look for a man who
looks exactly like me, to give him my Sonya,
my name, my shirt. It has begun; neighbors climb
the trolleys at the fish market, breaking all their
moments in half. Trolleys burst like
intestines in the sun. Pavel shouts “I am so fucking
beautiful I cannot stand it.” Two boys, still holding
tomato sandwiches, hop in the trolley’s
light, soldiers aim at their faces, their ears. I can’t find my wife,
where is my pregnant wife? I, a body, an adult male, awaits
to explode like a hand grenade. It has begun; I see
the blue canary of my country pick breadcrumbs
from each citizen’s eyes, pick breadcrumbs from
my neighbors’ hair. The snow left the earth and
fell straight up as it should, to have a country so
important to run into walls, into streetlights, into
loved ones, as one should. The blue canary of my
country runs into walls, into streetlights,
into loved ones. The blue canary of my country, watch their legs as
they run and fall. A Cigarette. Watch, Vasenka citizens do
not know they are evidence of happiness in a time of war, each is a ripped-out
document of laughter. Watch God, deaf have
something to tell that not even they can hear. If you climb a roof
in the Central Square of a bombarded city, you will
see my neighbor thieves a cigarette, another gives a
dog a pint of sunlit beer. You will find me, God,
like a dumb pigeon’s beak, I am pecking every which
way at astonishment. Firing Squad. On balconies, sunlight. On poplars, sunlight
on our lips. Today no one is shooting. A girl cuts her hair with
imaginary scissors, the scissors in sunlight, her
hair in sunlight. Another girl nicks
a pair of shoes from a sleeping soldier,
skewered with light. As soldiers wake and gape at us, gaping at them, what
do they see? Tonight they shot fifty
women at Lerna Street. I sit down to write and
tell you what I know, a child learns the world
by putting it in her mouth. A girl becomes a woman
and a woman, earth. Body, they blame you for
all things and they seek in the body what does
not live in the body. [ Ambient Noise ] The Townspeople Watch
Them Take Alfonso. Now each of us is
a witness stand. Vasenka watches us watch
four soldiers throw Alfonso Barabinski on the sidewalk. We let them take him,
all of us cowards. What we don’t say, we
carry in our suitcases, our coat pockets, our nostrils. Across the street they
wash him with fire hoses. First he screams, then he stops. So much sunlight, a t-shirt
falls off a clothes line and an old man stops, picks
it up, presses it to his face. Neighbors line up to watch
him thrown on a sidewalk like a Vaudeville act, ta dah! In so much sunlight, each
of us is a witness stand. They take Alfonso
and no one stands up. Our silence stands up for us. And the last poem I’ll read, hopefully will bring the
[inaudible] much closer home. It’s called, In a Time of Peace. In a Time of Peace. Inhabitant of earth for
forty something years, I once found myself
in a peaceful country. I watch neighbors
open their phones to watch a concrete
operation demanding a man’s driver’s license. And when the man
reaches for his wallet, the cop shoots into
the car window. Shoots. It is a peaceful
country. We pocket our phones and go; to
the dentist, to pick up the kids from school, to buy
shampoo and basil. Ours is a country in which
a boy shot by police lies on the pavement for hours. We see in his open mouth, the
nakedness of the whole nation. We watch. Watch others watch. The body of a boy lies
on the pavement exactly like the body of a boy. It is a peaceful country. And it clips our citizens’
bodies effortlessly, the way the President’s
wife trims her toenails. All of us still have
to do the hard work of dentist appointments,
of remembering to make a summer salad:
basil, tomatoes, it is a joy, tomatoes, add a little salt. This is a time of peace. I don’t hear gunshots,
but watch birds splash over the backyards
of the suburbs. How bright is the sky as the
avenue spins on its axis. How bright is the sky,
forgive me, how bright. Thank you. [ Applause – Ambient Noise ]>>Sheila Black: I’m
waiting for, oh, we’re on. Welcome, that was amazing
Ilya, that was wonderful. I thought we’d start by
talking about the title of this, The Poetry of Silence. The book has so many kinds
of silence and thinks about silence in so many ways. And you said a really beautiful
thing in an interview I read with you once, that the lyric
was a strangeness inside language, and that silence
was also inside language. So what do we mean when we
talk about poetry of silence? What do you think
we’re talking about?>>Ilya Kaminsky: I think when
we talk about lyrics strangeness and the first thing that
comes to mind for me, is an image from King
Lear, by Shakespeare. So there’s this old [inaudible]
whose daughter just died and he’s holding her in his
arms and Shakespeare is a master of eloquence who could say any
beautiful thing you can imagine. At that moment, Shakespeare
has King Lear say, just one completely
undramatic word, never, never, never, never, never. And so, in the middle of all
this glory that is King Lear by Shakespeare, you have this
completely strange [inaudible] that happens, and you
ask yourself, why. And for me it’s because
[inaudible] show up [inaudible] is not enough.>>Sheila Black: No.>>Ilya Kaminsky: In great
poet like [inaudible], and [inaudible] after Holocaust,
he asked himself how to respond to that, right, in the
Germans the language of people who killed my mother
or [inaudible] in a completely different
part of the world and land in America, [inaudible] month in
to another or Emily Dickenson, right, [inaudible] creating a
language kind of all of her own and denies [inaudible] she
denied [inaudible] even moment when she actually meant to say
something for us to remember. So I think writes manipulate
the kind of silence in order to give us something that
they want us to keep. In a way for me, poetry
is a moment of silence, a moment of awe, that
travels from one human body to another by means of language.>>Sheila Black: Yeah, and
I think there’s also a way in which language can show how
we stutter and how metaphor and eloquence fail us at times. I mean when really terrible
things happen in our lives, we don’t speak like Shakespeare
in this great glorious language, we often lose our speech.>>Ilya Kaminsky: But
what is silence for you?>>Sheila Black: It’s
a little bit like that. I noticed in the poem when
you say first, the boy lies like a paperclip in the
street, it’s a metaphor and we love metaphor, but then
you say he lies like a boy, and putting those two together, you almost illustrate
how it comes down.>>Ilya Kaminsky: Well when you
are facing this kind of tragedy, you realize that the [inaudible]
metaphor is not going to do it. You just got to say
what happened.>>Sheila Black: What
happened, exactly. And there’s moments where
you strip away almost all the decoration of yourself. But at the same time, for me, silence as a poet is
definitely related to music. I think that, you know,
we think about silence, you said this yourself,
you said that, you know, if we didn’t have silence, all
the music would just be noise. There wouldn’t be that,
those moments to take it in.>>Ilya Kaminsky: Without
silence, music is just noise. Silence gives the
rhythm punctuation.>>Sheila Black: Exactly.>>Ilya Kaminsky: Punctuation.>>Sheila Black: And I guess
politically in this book, I also think of silence in terms
of all the paradoxes we see in the book of language
can silence people. I mean, you know, any sort of
government or corporate of even, you know, we speak about this a
lot in disability, there were, you know, there was a great
politeness around disability. You know, I suppose, I spent,
I had a physical, you know, visible disability and I’d say
a lot of my childhood was spent with people being
very kind about it, but the kindness was
pretending it didn’t exist. And I love in your book how,
when the townspeople refuse to hear, in a sense it’s
something we all want to do. We all wish there was something
we could just do within us that would make the world
less cruel or less– you have this great thing that
kind of relates to silence, I was curious about, you
have this beautiful precision in the early scenes, the
early poems of the book, when we see the boy shot. We don’t actually hear
the gunshot, we hear, we see the gulls
lifting, it’s an image. And it reverberates,
enters our body. And you have a line you
repeat, the moment convulses. The moment convulses. You say, where is it? You say, observe this
moment, how it convulses. I loved your use of that word. What did you mean convulses? When you think of that
moment convulsing?>>Ilya Kaminsky: It’s
a wonderful question. I’m afraid I have to start a
little bit from [inaudible] of course we really only
unpacked one side of silence, [inaudible] creative moment. There’s also a destructive
moment. [inaudible] and the first
question I ask anybody else who’s either hard of hearing
or deaf [inaudible] I ask well, do you believe in silence? And most people who are hard of
hearing or deaf say no, I don’t. And over time I realized the
silence is really, truly, a creation of the hearing.>>Sheila Black: Yeah, it is. Yeah.>>Ilya Kaminsky: And
if you admit that, just now we admitted that,
that wasn’t in the question. Every single religion,
philosophy, metaphysics and [inaudible] or other
traditions that we have, that is based on
silence at its core. It makes us wonder
well, what does it mean if it’s summarily a
creation of a certain part of population as it stands.>>Sheila Black:
That’s a great idea. Did everyone follow? He’s saying that silence is sort
of a creation of the hearing. You asked many, and it,
because for example, ASL or a language
that’s gestural, or the way in this poem you
read, this sound we do not hear, lifts the gulls off the water. We know exactly what that’s,
from the hearing perspective, we know exactly what
has happened, we know what that sound is. Yet somehow, the image makes
it reverberate in a sonic wave, which is really interesting.>>Ilya Kaminsky: The other
[inaudible] to consider for me, and that goes a little bit
more away from just perspective of somebody who’s deaf or hard of hearing time a
general population who might consider
themselves disabled, and of this country anybody who
doesn’t have health insurance, which is most of us,
[inaudible] population.>>Sheila Black: Yes.>>Ilya Kaminsky: And
that was for me, early on, when I first began to study, in college was a wonderful book
called, Extraordinary Body–>>Sheila Black: By Rosemarie,
that’s an amazing book.>>Ilya Kaminsky:
Rosemarie Garland Thompson, classic [inaudible] disability
[inaudible] introduction to the book she says
something like, a disabled body should move
from the realm of the hospital into the realm of
political minority. And what does it mean for
all of us in this room who don’t have health insurance.>>Sheila Black: And being
in the realm of the hospital, I thought about that
a lot, because for me, which might be a bit different
from you, I had often thought of hospital as my homeland,
not my homeland but I–>>Ilya Kaminsky: Well you
say it in one of your poems.>>Sheila Black: Yes,
because I spent a lot of time in hospitals, either being
observed or having surgery. Not really that much,
but enough, you know. So it was what I had in common
with the disability community, but when I read Rosemarie
Garland Thompson and thought about it, I thought, yes,
it’s because we’ve been sort of sealed in our private
drama and we didn’t have a way of seeing ourselves
as a collective. And being a political
minority, it’s a lot more of a collective active identity. And so she’s right, I think.>>Ilya Kaminsky: That for
me, in writing the book, was important because I
wanted silence to be something that enables, that
inspires as opposed to something that shuts down. Unfortunately I wrote a book
about human beings so I had to have a conflict and
human beings are not perfect and by the end of the book,
a lot of drama happens.>>Sheila Black: Well I
think the book though, is a very timely book and I kind
of wanted to talk about that. It definitely seems informed
by all the terrible kind of Holocausts and
political drama we’ve seen in the 20th century. It’s interesting that it
often in modern America, I think we’ve pretended
and I would say, this is another example of
silence, we’ve pretended in some ways that we weren’t a
nation that took place in that, when we certainly were. I mean, one [inaudible], you’ve
said this, I don’t know if it’s in your book but I think I read
it in an interview with you, and I agree, America was the
site of this huge genocide that was of its native
populations, that was completely
silenced, really. You know, you can go to
any place in the country and there be stories like the
story you tell in some ways. So, I think I’m interested in
that idea, I think that part of what happens is
silence becomes enabling but there’s also that idea of
the many metaphorical meanings of silence, would you say?>>Ilya Kaminsky: You
know, I come from Ukraine, I was born in [inaudible] when
Ukraine was very much a part of USSR, and I came here
when I was 16 [inaudible], my first book [inaudible]
I guess it was more about well how do
I keep my Russian, Ukrainian heritage
[inaudible] here so it became almost
poetry [inaudible]. I didn’t even feel like I
was writing it in English, but with language of images
and I finished that book, it was published 2004, by
that time I had to ask myself, what am I going to do next? And I could have done another
book about the same experience but I felt like I was
playing a Russian to do that. And I didn’t want to do that, so I had to ask myself,
well who am I? What is the American side of me? And this book is really very
much a fairy tale or fable which tries to tell kind of
from a refugee perspective, what does it mean to
describe life back in Ukraine, but also life here
in United States? I live in San Diego,
California on the border for the last the 12
years and in San Diego, watching a person being
[inaudible] was something that was very common in the
past decade that I have there, it was a daily occurrence, and that shows you really
do live in the empire. And so you begin to ask yourself
how was it, how did it begin, and [inaudible] [inaudible]
well, no, it never ended, we still live in the empire. And we never acknowledge that,
we live among the silence of people who do
not [inaudible]. I also want to go back a
little bit to this question that you asked, how silence
convulses around the moment. There was a wonderful poet
from Yugoslavia, Thomas Salmon.>>Sheila Black: Oh well
wonderful poet, yes.>>Ilya Kaminsky: A
very, very prolific, probably the most prolific
poet of his generation, wrote well over 30 books,
[inaudible] not long ago. Very energetic person
and yet when the war in Yugoslavia started, he
refused to write poems. He said, I can’t
contribute more language, I need to create a moment
for this [inaudible] to be quiet, to vibrate. And he did not write poems for 5
years of conflict in Yugoslavia. The most prolific poet
of his generation. And that is–>>Sheila Black: That’s
very moving, yeah.>>Ilya Kaminsky: You feel this
vibrancy of what had happened and how he honors it, as a
poet, honors it with his craft by silencing his craft. There’s so many different ways.>>Sheila Black: Well he,
and it’s kind of beautiful and speaks to the sort of danger
of the kind of capitalization or branding of poetry, because
the fact that he loved it so much and stopped, suggests
that idea that, you know, I mean one thing I
felt in this book was that well you were writing
very much from your soul. You said once, you
aren’t a documentary poet, you wanted to be
a spiritual poet. And that means risking
silence because you have to either find language that’s
adequate to bring this new news, or you don’t want your language
to collaborate in any way and I think there are
experiences that are very hard to bring into language. One thing I wanted to, I hope
everyone reads Deaf Republic, I’ve read it now five times, and it’s rewarded me every
single time and one reason, Ilya, that was interesting,
that I wanted to talk about is that we, speech can
become hollow in all sorts of well-meaning ways and
sometimes you’re writing about trauma and
it’s nothing but sort of a pornographic almost
exhilaration about trauma. One of the things that made this
book so moving to me is there’s so much human joy in it, and
that human joy is set right up against these terrible
things happening in the fable, you know, or not the
fable but the village. And I wondered, you know, how,
that was interesting to me, was that just something
you felt instinctively, was that something you
thought about, you know, you really have these poem after
poem where the couple remembers so much great joy and even
in the middle of the war, we see the boys kind of
playing around with each other, kissing in the street, all these
things, and they’re evidence of happiness, even in
the midst of all this. And yet, it’s difficult
because they’re set right up against the things that we like to think we
wouldn’t recover from. You have that line, we didn’t
die, and we didn’t die. You know, I guess whatever
you have to say about that. It’s [inaudible]>>Ilya Kaminsky: Thank
you for mentioning this. I think part of the privilege
of living in the United States, that is very much
reflected in the limitation of our literature has to do
with our kind of relegating, even the term political
poetry, doesn’t exist anywhere in the world except
for the United States and Western Europe. Everywhere else in the world, political poetry is
poetry, everybody writes! Because life is political.>>Sheila Black: Yes it is.>>Ilya Kaminsky: Okay? But somehow here, you
have to separate them, and this is where
[inaudible] and this is where I’m comfortable.>>Sheila Black: Yeah.>>Ilya Kaminsky: The other
situation that we see often, is when we say political
[inaudible] okay now I have to write about all the
terrible things that happened. But just doing that, we are
like, I’m here I’m comfortable, they [inaudible], they, they,
you see what I’m saying?>>Sheila Black: Exactly.>>Ilya Kaminsky: [inaudible]
people who are living in a difficult circumstance, any
chance of happiness in our work, [inaudible] what
kind of [inaudible] if we just [inaudible]
complexities of war, if you don’t Ireland the fact
that people still have weddings and birthdays and get up in
the morning and want to go on?>>Sheila Black: Yeah, if we
don’t witness the miracles. Or not the miracles,
but the presence of joy and I always felt that way as
a disability writer, early on, or as a person with a
disability, because you, in fact one of the reasons
I did that anthology, the Beauty is a Verb
with Jennifer Bartlett, is we felt that we were so
tired of everyone seeing us as so unfortunate when, it
wasn’t really true, you know? Or heroic or unfortunate. You know? And that is a way of
saying, they, not me, and so, it’s exactly kind of
what we wanted to do, write about you know,
just as poets and so I think that’s
really important. [inaudible] talk a little bit about the two poems,
we have not time! Oh, is there time for questions? Ilya, we talked too much. Thank you everybody
for being here.

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