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This review is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

With Teeth Marks ilya kaminsky, Dancing in Odessa (Arc Publications) £8.99

I came across the American paperback of Dancing in Odessa in 2007 and was immediately impressed. Here was a rare poetry not drowning in neo-classicism, circumscribed by tax dollars or indeed thirled to a finely honed sense of self such as to be exemplary – and dead. The verse was pitch perfect, the images exacting and tender, the structure playful and precise. Perhaps the most astonishing thing was the biographical note. The poet was in his thirties and English his second language – he had arrived in the US in 1993 at the age of sixteen without a word of it.

The themes of Kaminsky’s poetry are familiar. They speak with delicacy of a debt of tutelage to Tsvetaeva and Mandelshtam. Joseph Brodsky too remains a cynosure. What is most striking is that Kaminsky’s eye and ear for poetry is unerring. Indeed in 2010 he co-edited (with Susan Harris) the Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, a book that is an education in itself.

Adam Zagajewski astutely observes that Kaminsky’s achievement in these poems can be traced to the way in which he grafts the Russian literary tradition onto ‘the American tree of poetry and forgetting’. Indeed. The graft works for reasons that are both modest and miraculous. The poems are enabled – and hedged – by a language that thickens tender experience with a spoonful of genuine insight. To that insight might be added something like wisdom. The qualification is precious because it reintroduces the notion of poetry as a system of eternal deferrals, ...

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