by Carol JagoIf you haven’t yet discovered Ilya Kaminsky’s play in verse, Deaf Republic, you have an extraordinary shock to your poetic system in store. No volume of poetry has had such a powerful impact upon me as a reader in a very long time.
Let’s look at the very first poem in Kaminsky’s play, "We Lived Happily During the War". Read it aloud to the class and then ask students to read it once more to themselves, noting an image or phrase that struck them as intriguing or perplexing.
Put students into small groups and invite them to:
1. Read the poem aloud once more.
2. Share the lines they noted.
3. Discuss what they think the poem wants us to know.
Together as a whole class, consider Ilya Kaminsky’s use of repetition. How does it affect our understanding of the poem?
Ilya Kaminsky was deaf until he came to the United States. Invite students to reflect upon the idea of a deaf poet. For further reading on this subject, see Kaminsky’s essay that appeared in the New York Times, “Searching for a Lost Odessa and a Deaf Childhood: A poet returns to the city of his birth.”
“I turn off my hearing aids and walk up to walls, touch them with my fingers. This is the act of a fool who touches the skin of time and walks through it.” -- Ilya Kaminsky
Carol Jago has taught middle and high school for 32 years and is past president of NCTE. She is associate director of the California Reading and Literature Project at UCLA and the author of The Book in Question: Why and How Reading Is in Crisis. (Heinemann 2019).