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Hayden Carruth writing about Louise Katz and Isobar

My memory has become almost useless. Nevertheless, I think I first me Louise Katz, who is called Lou by all her friends, in 1971, when I was teaching a poetry workshop in the summer program at Bennington College in Vermont. It was a happy summer. Brian Swann was directing the program then, and his wife Roberta was with him—two truly beautiful people, who made the work easy and rewarding for us all. The weather was fair and warm the whole time. Lou’s poems were a delight for the whole workshop. I found them charming and deeply moving.

Her obsessive topic was (and is) her mother’s illness and death some years earlier. Mother and daughter had been extremely close. Lou could not free herself from overwhelming sorrow and the agony of loss. She writes about this by recalling events in her mother’s life and illness and making them into tiny narratives that reverberate widely in human experience.

Most of the poems are achingly sorrowful, but at times her tone changes to wryness and even humor. Her language is as small, quiet, and expressive as breezes in the pines.

Lou Katz is a new voice in American poetry, a delightful one. In effect, we are already obligated to her for her work and her example. We must welcome her cordially and pay attention to her from now on.


From a review by Jacquelyn Pope of The Winter Keeper, in Salamander, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2006

…[Eva] Hooker’s hushed, scant lines and eloquent silences are beautifully rendered here, given generous margins, a handsewn binding and paper jacket. Beyond the pleasures of the scale and visual appeal of the book are the pleasures of Hooker’s poems themselves; they are meditations and prayers that fold in on themselves, revealing a world of uncertainties and deprivations that also harbors beauty. The poems share an austerity that seems to be an inevitable product of the landscapes her poems occupy. In the title poem, the speaker encounters a bear in her kitchen (or perhaps it is the bear who encounters the speaker in her woods) and takes a lesson in thrift and survival, and in learning patience and humility:

The cellar door bangs. I look away.

I say, all winter something is something else.

The moths sleep. The wind is visible.

The end of each thing forages for shape. I hunt for—it is a kind of waiting.

An enclosure. For translation.

In Hooker’s poems there is a continual flux and inter-mixing of time, of the senses, of the internal and the natural worlds—it is as if the internal world is a natural one, rather than the ego-heavy construct we are all too familiar with. Unforgiving forces, like the weather, meet not with resistance but with a pliant kind of tenacity. Erasures are hauled out of memory and restored, but ear the marks of age, the pitting and spotting of hard use, as in these lines from “The One Man Rocking There”:

Somewhere grey linoleum in the hallway,

uncurtained windows seizing up in their sashes

full of red light. Rows of mason jars

on the cellar shelves. (I have managed

I did not ask too much. I have breathed

lightly.)…

The lingering, almost palpable stillness of these poems keeps one returning to them, re-reading, appreciating their deepening quiet.


From a review of Jim Schley’s One Another by Kathryn R. Farris and Ilya Kaminsky in InPosse Review (webdelsol.com)

“This poet’s particular gift is his ability to fill the old forms with richness of texture and fresher experience, to find a language of paradox and beauty which can both surprise and sustain. To succeed in a project like this, he must be able to speak in several voices at once and shift his tone at any given moment, to sound solemn without being boring, to be playful and surprising without being obscure. And Schley is doing just that. . . . The ability to shift voices and the speaker’s attitudes so fluidly allows Schley to investigate multiple personalities, pointing his diverse interest in the experience of each, without ever repeating himself. He is a man-orchestra, who is can to play on several instruments at once.”


Review of Against Certainty in by Mary Barnet on PoetryMagazine.com

The best book I have read in a good while.

A chapiteau in the true sense of the word. A refreshing series of excellent poets, all of whose work tingles with creative originality in a movement that dares to speak out against torture, false imprisonment, and war.

The poems cross the borders of hatred and cultural misunderstanding and work always against violence of all sorts. These poets bravely speak for peace when others, particularly those in government, tirade for war.

They represent a group of Bay Area Poets which held readings in and near San Francisco to raise money through Poets for Peace/United Poets Coalition after 9/11 for Doctors Without Borders, Unicef, Red Cross, and other humanitarian groups. Survivors International receives the proceeds from this chapbook.

One only wonders if these insightful and sensitive poets can stand in the way of forces greater than men. Certainly, Daigon, Amichai and Bloch, Hirshfield, Zawinski, Day, and the others give it a try, all maintaining a very high standard of excellence throughout the chapbook.

Their work has had an effect on the nation, and continues to agitate

for peace.


Channeling a Persecuted Russian Poet: Review of Ilya Kaminsky’s Musica Humana by Frank Wilson in The Philadephia Inquirer

In 1934, the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam was arrested. He had written what has been called “a 16-line death sentence” — an epigram aimed at Joseph Stalin. In it he described Stalin’s fingers as “worms” and compared his mustache to that of a cockroach. He also called the supreme leader of the Soviet Union a murderer in general and a slayer of peasants in particular. Stalin failed to see the humor.

Mandelstam was subjected to an interrogation so brutal he was left a broken man. Exiled to a remote province, he was able to return to Moscow in 1937, but a year later was arrested again. This time he was sent to a labor camp. He died in the Gulag Archipelago, in a transit camp near Vladivostok in 1938.

The title poem of Ilya Kaminsky’s Musica Humana is subtitled “an elegy for Osip Mandelstam.” Kaminsky, 27, was born in Odessa — “the city named after Odysseus” — in what is now Ukraine. He came with his family to the United States — to Rochester, N.Y. — 10 years ago. He writes in English, but his poetic sensibility is distinctly Russian. There is the easy fluency in the dialectic of imagery and metaphor that seems to come naturally to Russians. Theirs is a poetry that has less to do with saying than with seeing — or rather the saying and the seeing are somehow one. The seeing is tactile, synesthetic, the image presented in such a way that it isn’t merely beheld, but embraced and felt: “... it was August. / August! The light in the trees, full of fury. August / filling the hands with language that tastes like smoke.”

This is Mandelstam addressing “you, who are writing me” — the saying in this elegy is done mostly by the martyred poet himself, which seems only fair, given how savagely he was silenced during his lifetime: “... like Icarus, / whispering to himself as he falls... /... my life as a broken branch in the wind / hits the Northern ground. / I am writing now a history of snow... “

Kaminsky has Mandelstam describe himself as Icarus, but Kaminsky himself, in one of the prose notes prefacing the sections of the poem, describes him as “a modern Orpheus: sent to hell, he never returned, while his widow searched . . . clutching the saucepan with his songs rolled up inside. . . . “ Mandelstam’s life’s work would have been lost had it not been for the devotion of his widow, Nadezhda, who collected his poems, memorized them, and hid copies of them (her memoir Hope Against Hope recounts the harrowing tale of her husband’s persecution at the hands of the Soviet authorities).

By keeping things simple, by keeping the focus on Mandelstam’s misfortunes, and never drawing attention to himself, Kaminsky achieves in this elegy a quiet grandeur. The other sequences in the chapbook, “Natalia” and “Praise,” are solid poetic base hits, but “Musica Humana” is a line-drive shot over the fence.

Ilya Kaminsky bears watching. He has a fine ear and a sharp eye. Above all, he has a purity of outlook that is akin to innocence — and every bit as appealing.

Contact Inquirer books editor Frank Wilson at 215-854-5616 or fwilson@phillynews.com.


Review of Ilya Kaminsky’s Musica Humana by Garth Greenwell in The Boston Review (February/March 2003).

Ilya Kaminsky’s debut collection is the fourth volume in Chapiteau’s series of beautifully designed hand-stitched chapbooks. Its brevity belies the extent of its ambition: in three long poems, Kaminsky addresses the sorrows and absurd joys of exile, the seemingly inevitable failure of poetry as resistance to political oppression, and the insufficient grace of romantic love. Born in Odessa, deaf since the age of four, Kaminsky writes in a language from which he is doubly estranged, chasing an essential and ungraspable music: “in a language not mine, [I] speak / of music that wakes us, music / in which we move. For whatever I say // is a kind of petition.” Nor does Kaminsky turn his back on his first language, and these poems are haunted by Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Brodsky. In “Musica Humana,” the most impressive poem here, Kaminsky speaks in the voices of Mandelstam, his wife Nedezhda, and the young, belated poet who succeeds in placing himself among their company. Kaminsky makes no apologies for attempting to stake a claim among his great predecessors, but what might in a less impressive collection sound a note of presumption becomes here an act of homage: “Now, memory, pour some beer,” his Mandelstam says, “salt the rim of the glass; you, / who are writing me, have what you want: a golden coin, my tongue to put it under.” Perhaps it’s inevitable that moments of Musica Humana betray the youth of its author. When for instance in a span of three pages we read “The darkness, a magician,” “memory, an old flautist,” and “Love, a one-legged bird” Kaminsky’s odd metaphorical appositions come to seem more mannered than inspired. But this is a minor complaint about a remarkable debut, one that affords a rare and exhilarating pleasure: the sense of being at the start of something marvelous.