Ilya Kaminsky’s parable in poems asks us, What is silence? At once a love story, an elegy, and a plea, this finalist for the 2019 National Book Award confronts our time’s vicious atrocities and our collective silence in the face of them.
Poetry lives by specifics (indeed, this is what makes it the most effective weapon against demagogy and tyranny), and Kaminsky is wonderfully attentive to such repeating patterns of details, contributing to the impression that his book is a through-composed whole, rather than simply a sequence of individual poems. Civilian warfare is conjured most effectively through occasional vivid images ... part of the power of Deaf Republic lies in its exercise of the imagination ... And Deaf Republic is no easy book. A visit to this republic will not leave the reader unchanged.
... extraordinary ... Love poems... are mingled with poems of grief-stricken horror... and protest... as the book winds toward its dark conclusion. Re-envisioning disability as power and silence as singing, Kaminsky has created a searing allegory precisely tuned to our times, a stark appeal to our collective conscience.
Deaf Republic shares with Joyce’s works, too, a certain difficulty that rewards close (and multiple) readings. But this difficulty is the book’s strength — on levels both poetic and political ... I’m tempted to say I wish the book had ended [earlier]... But a final poem — 'In a Time Of Peace'— serves as a kind of bookend-sequel to [the first poem]. Unfortunately, without the lens of fictional narrative, much of this last poem feels like being tapped repeatedly on the shoulder and asked whether we’ve “gotten” the book’s analogy between Vasenka and contemporary America ... Deaf Republic is a masterfully wrought collection, and this last stanza [of the book] does justice to every line that precedes it.