Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Ilya Kaminsky

Dear Editor,

Several years ago, writing in the Nation, Meghan O’Rourke stated:

In 1981 Carolyn Forché published a slim collection of verse. . . . some critics saw Forché’s attempt to fuse poetry and politics as damaging to the integrity of both. . . . Some twenty years later, it’s hard to imagine that Forché’s book was attacked as it was. We are, of course, at a different place in the history of taste: After September 11 and fifteen years of reading Eastern European poets like Czeslaw Milosz and Adam Zagajewski, Americans are more comfortable with poets shifting between the personal and political in their work.

Hard to imagine, in our age and day, O’Rourke says. Perhaps not—for it is with a sense of sadness that I read in the July/August issue of Poetry these words by Michael Hudson:

her idea of “witness” struck me as yet another call for poetry to do something, and that poetry of witness requires appropriate credentials, namely some overwhelming historical-political tragic backstory. Under editorial questioning, Forché conceded . . .

Seriously? Did you tie her to a chair and demand confession? It is hardly an appropriate tone to discuss any poetics—but especially the sort of poetics that has survived the test of time and now, exactly thirty years after the first publication of The Country Between Us (which is still very much in print, by the way) seems as relevant, and as necessary, as ever.

san diego, california

Originally Published: September 1, 2011

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This prose originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2011


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 Ilya  Kaminsky


Poet Ilya Kaminsky was born in the former Soviet Union city of Odessa. He lost most of his hearing at the age of four after a doctor misdiagnosed mumps as a cold, and his family was granted political asylum by the United States in 1993, settling in Rochester, New York. After his father’s death in 1994, Kaminsky began to write poems in English. He explained in an interview with the Adirondack Review, “I chose English because no . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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