Ilya Kaminsky

I first met Ilya Kaminsky while at the Vermont Studio School. Ilya was the writer in residence who was originally from the Ukraine, the former Soviet Republic and was granted asylum to the United States in 1993. 

Excerpts from Ilya’s workshop on craft-

Ecstatic moment is standing outside yourself
Take preexisting forms and change them and 
as we change them, we change ( the body)
Expansive and intimate at the same time
Great poets invent their own language

Pema Chodron
“only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”

When we come back to our body, whatever is true at the moment is a deeper truth that goes beyond our own narrative, our own story.

One hundred years ago in 1922 my father was born on the escape route out of Ukraine in Rovno, a border town that had just become Poland. Issac Babel had passed through Rovno while with the Red Army. Babel was also shot in the head by the side of the road just for being Babel.

My great Uncle was also shot in the head in the Proskuriv Pogrom in the Ukraine – 1918 – 1919 just for being a Jew.

My grandparents came from what is today called Mykolaiv in the Southern Ukraine that is situated next to the Buh River. My grandmother used to say that there were two towns. One name referred to the actual town, and the other name referred to the Shtetl where they were forced to live as Jews. My cousin who is a Russian Studies scholar went back years ago to find the town, and everything had been reduced to rubble, was only a crossroads. All that remained were fragments. My grandmother would swim in the Dnipro River and also go to Odessa in the summer to swim in the Black Sea. 

The family were furriers and had a contract with the Russian Army to make the fur linings of the uniforms. They were useful and then they were not. Because the family had a telephone, the Russians accused them of being spies. After my grandfather’s brother was murdered  my grandparents were forced to leave for their own safety. There were four siblings out of eight that committed suicide. My grandfather was one of them. The family was torn apart from the harsh realties of survival and immigration. Not by choice, but as refugees.

I did not imagine that Ukraine would become another site for mass annihilation and suffering this time solely inflicted by the Russians. As I write this, the Russians are trying to destroy the port by the Black Sea of Mykolaiv. Others will also starve as this port exports grain to other nations. 

It has taken four generations to be released from this generational trauma that my grandparents and father endured.

How many generations for the people who are currently living there?

From the Street of Crocodiles /  Bruno Shultz

“The pale pink of human skin, some golden – some blue grey, all flat, warm and velvety in the sun, like sun dials, trodden to the point of obliteration, into blessed nothingness”

Obliteration of material to light, and in Shultz the premonition of annihilation. 

I am dealing with memory, not actual memory of experience, but rather memory that is part of my DNA – and that – juxtaposed with the actual moment of experience, can connote a different sense of time.   

‘ Falling out of Time’ by David Grossman
(the first book written after his son was killed – 2006 – Southern Lebanon, two days before a cease fire ordered by the UN)

“only in Art can life and death meet”
Shum Vremeni- Mandelstam – ‘ The noise of Time ‘