‘In the Middle of War, He is Asking for Poems’ — LMC’s Ilya Kaminsky on the War in Ukraine
Posted March 14, 2022
The poet, who often writes and speaks of his childhood in Odessa, Ukraine, authored an op-ed for The New York Times on March 13, 2022, in which he discusses war, poetry, and the fate of Ukraine’s writers and translators — many of whom he has been trying to help escape the country amid the Russian invasion.
“Lots of Ukrainian writers don’t want to leave,” Kaminsky wrote in the column. “They want their freedoms. They want their own languages — Ukrainian and Russian — in their own streets. I understand. My Jewish family keeps running from Odessa — and then returning.”
Kaminsky is the author of two prize-winning books of poetry, Dancing in Odessa and Deaf Republic. His poem, “We Lived Happily During the War,” went viral starting the day Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Poetry International first published the piece in 2013, the same year the Maidan protests began in Ukraine and the year before the Donbas War in Ukraine broke out.
“We lived happily during the war,” the poem begins, “and when they bombed other people’s houses, we / protested / but not enough, we opposed them but not / enough.”
Kaminsky has also been keeping in contact with friends and family in Ukraine. He included some conversations in the op-ed. He also chronicles many of his discussions on Twitter.
“I ask how I can help,” Kaminsky writes in the op-ed. “Finally, an older friend, a lifelong journalist, writes back: ‘Putins come and go. If you want to help, send us some poems and essays. We are putting together a literary magazine.’”
“In the middle of war,” Kaminsky marvels, “he is asking for poems.”
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Cassidy Chreene Whittle
School of Literature, Media, and Communication | School of Modern Languages