Carolyn Forché, Ilya Kaminsky elected to US Academy of Arts

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Poets Carolyn Forché and Ilya Kaminsky have been elected to the American Academy of Arts, it has been announced. The Poetry Foundation has said of Forché that she “is perhaps best-known for coining the term ‘poetry of witness.’ ” In her anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993), Forché described the difficulties of politically-engaged poetry: “We are accustomed to rather easy categories: we distinguish between ‘personal’ and ‘political’ poems…The distinction…gives the political realm too much and too little scope; at the same time, it renders the personal too important and not important enough. If we give up the dimension of the personal, we risk relinquishing one of the most powerful sites of resistance. The celebration of the personal, however, can indicate a myopia, an inability to see how larger structures of the economy and the state circumscribe, if not determine, the fragile realm of the individual.”

Forché, born in 1950, received a Guggenheim Fellowship and traveled to El Salvador in time to witness the unfolding civil war. Her experiences found expression in The Country between Us (1981). The poet said of her Central American experience: “I tried not to write about El Salvador in poetry, because I thought it might be better to do so in journalistic articles. But I couldn’t — the poems just came.” Her prose-poem ‘The Colonel’ centres on her encounter with a Salvadoran colonel who, as he made light of human rights, emptied a bag of human ears before her.

Ilya Kaminsky was born in the former Soviet Union city of Odssa, now part of Ukraine. He lost most of his hearing at the age of four, and his family was granted political asylum by the US 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: “I chose English because no one in my family or friends knew it — no one I spoke to could read what I wrote. I myself did not know the language. It was a parallel reality, an insanely beautiful freedom. It still is.”

Kaminsky is the author of critically acclaimed collections of poetry, Dancing in Odesa (2004) and Deaf Republic (2019). The latter collection was shortlisted for the Forward prize and the TS Eliot prize. He is currently a professor at Princeton and lives in New Jersey.



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