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Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky

11 Jul

Deaf Republic
In school, we learned about history’s atrocities and I’m sure I’m not the only child who thought, “Why didn’t people do more? Why didn’t they stand up and fight?” As an adult, it has become clear that things are not always so simple.

All around the world, there are wars, there are atrocities being committed, but yet…people go on with their daily lives. And if the horror is not visible, if it is not directly affecting someone, then most people tend to shove it to the back of their minds. It’s normal, no one likes to feel disquieted and uncomfortable. But is our silence just? That’s another story…

Ilya Kaminsky’s “Deaf Republic” begins with the following poem, titled “We Lived Happily During the War”:

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

protested
but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.

Deaf Republic is a collection of poems woven together to form a narrative story, so those who usually aren’t too into poetry can still read this with ease. The story begins after the above poem: It is a time of unrest and violence in the fictional town of Vasenka. Soldiers come to town and kill a deaf boy. After the shot rings, the townspeople become deaf themselves. Consequently, they teach themselves sign language, which is illustrated throughout the book. The book is divided into two Acts. The first Act follows a newlywed couple, Alfonso and Sonya, while they are expecting their first child. The second Act follows Mama Galya, the head of the puppet theater, as she leads an insurgency against the military.

In “Deaf Republic”, we are confronted by silence in a myriad of ways. Silence in the face of oppressors can be powerful and defiant. (Citizens point to their ears as soldiers bark orders at them, they create their own sign language) Silence in the face of the oppressed can be devastating. (They take Alfonso / and no one stands up. Our silence stands up for us.)

“Deaf Republic” is a powerful read. It is a beautifully written piece with verses that will make you gasp in amazement. And yes, it is unsettling. But I would argue that more than ever, we need to learn to make peace with the feeling of uneasiness. We need to look inward, as painful as that may be, and use that uneasiness and discomfort to go about making change. And that’s something I’m still trying to grapple with: often, the right thing to do is not easy.

At the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow all this?
And the answer will be an echo: why did you allow all this?

Besides being available in print, Hoboken and other BCCLS patrons can borrow “Deaf Republic” as an ebook from eBCCLS.

Written by:
Samantha Evaristo
Hoboken Library Outreach Assistant

Evocative, Funny and Heartbreaking: Chen Chen – “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities”

22 May

ChenChenFurtherPossibilities
With April having been National Poetry Month, May being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and June being LGBT History Month, I thought I’d share a book that intersects all of these themes. Presenting: Chen Chen’s “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities.”

Whenever I express my love for poetry, I tend to get the same reaction every single time – a look of horror. It’s understandable why. In school, we are usually taught old, hard-to-read poems. The vocabulary is hard to grasp, it’s hard to relate to and there is a constant pressure to analyze, analyze, analyze. That’s enough to swear anyone off poetry.

But shunning all of poetry is a loss. Like music, there’s always something for everyone. Contemporary poetry is rising in popularity and thankfully there is a diverse group of poets that are leading the way, telling stories that would have been silenced or relegated to obscurity in the past, and opening doors for future voices to be heard.

In “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities,” Chen Chen’s poems are evocative, funny and heartbreaking. Here’s an excerpt from the title poem:

To be a good
ex/current friend for R. To be one last

inspired way to get back at R. To be relationship
advice for L. To be advice

for my mother. To be a more comfortable
hospital bed for my mother. To be

no more hospital beds. To be, in my spare time,
America for my uncle, who wants to be China

for me. To be a country of trafficless roads
& a sports car for my aunt, who likes to go

fast. To be a cyclone
of laughter when my parents say

their new coworker is like that, they can tell
because he wears pink socks, see, you don’t, so you can’t,

can’t be one of them. To be the one
my parents raised me to be—

a season from the planet
of planet-sized storms.

Chen Chen writes beautifully about love, family, rejection, as well as queer and Asian American experiences. “When I Grow Up” is an accessible and well-written collection that not only acts as a good introduction to contemporary poetry, but has the ability to reach out to those who may feel invisible due to their race, sexuality, or other characteristic they feel defines them.

Besides being available in print from the Hoboken Library, Hoboken resident library card holders can borrow an ebook copy from Hoopla!

Do you have a favorite poet or book of poems?  Let us know in the comments!

Written by:
Samantha Evaristo

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