This event took place online 19:00–20:15 BST (London time) 4 October 2021
Ukrainian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky discusses the process of writing I See a Silence, a new work commissioned by Artangel as part of Afterness and experienced as a recorded soundtrack for a walk through Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast.
His first thematic collection since 2019’s award-winning Deaf Republic, these 49 short poems are inspired by the singular ecology of the Ness and are intercut with a handful of lyrical prose passages. They explore the Ness’s biodiversity of flora and fauna and its role as a testing ground for military defence systems during the last century. Paradoxically, the global pandemic preempted any possibility of site visits for Kaminsky. The process of writing was therefore inspired by a Ness of his imagination, observed and processed through the mind's eye with the help of photography, archive footage and research data.
In conversation with poet and playwright Inua Ellams, Kaminsky reflected on his journey to the Suffolk coast without ever leaving Atlanta.
Live closed captions, StreamText captions and a full transcript of the event were provided by StageText.
MICHAEL: Hello and welcome everyone. I am the Co‑Director of Artangel. I am Michael Morris.
Sometimes you come across a book that you feel the urge to share as widely as possible. And if you've read Ilya Kaminsky's DEAF REPUBLIC, you'll know what I mean.
It's a poetry collection like no other with a visceral and unsettling impact that resonates far beyond its pages. And, back in 2019, it led us to invite Kaminsky to be part of an Artangel project we were developing for Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast.
Known locally as the island of secrets, for most of the last century The Ness was occupied by the Ministry of Defence as a research centre. It is the place where radar was developed; a vast expanse of windswept shingle which also became a detonation site for bouncing bombs and other ballistic systems. These days it's a nature reserve managed by the National Trust, but its history is never far from the surface. We called our project "Afterness" and invited several artists to make new works for the dilapidated test sites that punctuate the landscape. Meanwhile, Ilya Kaminsky wrote I SEE A SILENCE, a cycle of poems inspired by the Ness and experienced as a recorded soundtrack for the walk across the shingle between each site. Ilya is about to join us from Atlanta and he'll begin by reading a selection of these poems before being joined in conversation by poet and playwright Inua Ellams. You can post questions for Ilya via Twitter, using the hashtag Afterness and he'll answer as many as possible following the conversation.
Over to you Ilya.
ILYA: Hello, I am most grateful to be here, thank you so much Michael and everyone at Artangel who has been able to help with this project. It has been an amazing experience for me. Today I am most grateful to be in conversation with, you know about this project and to share the poems for you.
I will just read the poems and you will see, you might have noticed that I speak a pretty heavy Russian accent by the end of this 24 hours we spend together, you will also speak with a heavy Russian accent but just in case, I hope the closed captions for everyone to follow.
So some poems.
While the young wind of Ness grips scraps of paper helpless
in its hands
I surrender to you
you can have
All I ask is a moment of quiet I a deaf man want some quiet I want some quiet.
This is how once or twice in his life a man stands up and says
I have nothing except my body on this shingle spit All I ask is
a moment of quiet I a deaf man want some quiet I want some quiet and quiet
frames him like a doorway.
what will you do
when the dandelion leaves glisten listen
what will you do
on this beach you have dragged the dirty linen
of your bodies
what will I do?
I will stand
without the camouflage of speech I nothing much a man only.
the owls wake up Ness —pecking
of the 21st century
as if looking for the inventors of an atomic bomb— who who who who
This, officers, is common chickweed, cousin of a prickly sow thistle.
If you lean your ear to her stem
you can hear yourself leaving.
I love the planet because
is in it.
pink balding forehead.
God is a little insect limping
up the windowsill up the windowsill carrying a breadcrumb up up
like a shopping cart
but on Tuesdays
God is in misanthropic frogs croaking hello, how lovely—
across 4am moss hangs.
By nights owl
trespassing, who who who who who
Rain has eaten 1⁄4 of me
yet I believe against all evidence
are my letters of recommendation
here is a man worth falling on.
Mosquitoes are drilling
in the air a hole
with their voices’
tiny glass hammers.
I want a thousand helium balloons attached to the armoury. May it be light like a rabbit’s lung. May it swell with May. And lift it up above the island, above the water, above England, which is, probably, also a helium balloon. Underneath it, herring gulls, like old women, eat breakfast and gossip, mid-flight.
like prophet Isaiah
hoping to baptize someone, anyone, a gull perhaps, or a sea mouse ear.
And finally a little poem called: After Ness
What I saw
at Ness is how silence seeks us. How now in taxis in post offices
(magnum mysterium I see it now)
it moves in dentures
(who am I, I am on my knees I see)
how through the cavities in a man’s molars wind whistles
magnum mysterium, I see
is the self defense
of people spat on, people in whose faces other people’s
others watching them— watch who don’t know they are being watched.
Magnum mysterium, I
am no one
just a man
standing on air’s thin shoulders.
INUA: Hi Ilya, thank you for that captivating, hypnotic, moving, ominous but specific and precise reading. I could keep on adding adjectives, but it was magnificent to hear these poems, from this book which I have sat with since Michael sent them to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much.
Yes, I have a few questions. Michael said, I loved it and there is a friend who is also an acquaintance of yours and we have met and discussed your poems. It is a pleasure to be here with you and also been a fan of Artangel's work, this feels like the avengers united in the presentation here this evening. I wonder if you can tell me how you got involved with After Ness, were you aware of Artangel before Michael reached out to you. What was it like trying to write a piece you had never visited before?
ILYA: First of all thank you for being here in conversation, it is truly an honour for me and a pleasure, a delight to be in conversation with you and to know you have read this book. I am really grateful. Thank you. Truly.
Having said that trying to answer the question, this one is easy. Michael got in touch and it is a great organisation, I have heard about it from other poets who were delighted with the conversations that it creates. So, I was grateful to be in this kind of conversation and at first, Michael probably already mentioned, we planned the visit and the visit didn't happen because world got pandemic and crisises. It was a tragedy. So, Michael said to kind of change the parameters and kindly agreed to put faith into the conversation with the place I have never visited. To my mind, it became a kind of a metaphysical opportunity if you will. It became so probably a for a number of reasons, probably I won't be able to discuss in detail all of them. But I will try some of them. Number one we are in a crisis. For some people crisis just began, for others crisis has been going on for centuries.
How do we deal with it, as a poet, one has to tune into the music of the world. One has to speak against silence. But, as a poet we also know that we need the space for the language to generate for the music to happen. Without silencing any kind of music it is a noise, on‑going noise which music articulates, stops and creates rhythm. So there is more than one kind of silence.
That was interesting to me. Now, Ness provides a kind of, and specially After Ness, provides a metaphysical/historical possibility of how we deal with history as it is on‑going, even though we are also in the presentation, with every changing minute. After the present of history, how do we negotiate the two? For me, even though I never visited the place, if you think about, where were all the nuclear weapons pointing to? Were they pointing at the Soviet Union, where I live, where my parents live, where I went to school, 16 or so. Were the weapons pointing at those places? So it is personal.
It is also personal because how do we speak to this planet earth and on which we live. So many human drama and injustices, the kind of noise we create to not be in conversation with the planet. What we impose on each other, to not pay attention to what matters, as soon as we die, we leave the planet, my mother is inside the planet right now, so how is the planet not personal to me? It is immediate to me. Ness provides this opportunity about what happens for a moment, history kind of doesn't necessarily change because it never changes but transforms into another stage, another motion that it takes.
It was one form of empire, empire, it is a beautiful light that has stopped but it took a different form. Ness is a presentation of this. A question for me is that as an artist, it is a moment when a lot of our artists, myself included in my previous book, we kind of scream with the moment of a scream, or we found to injustice around us, as a high volume and Ness provides an opportunity to see how we can respond in a different register as well to yes respond to the crisis of the moment but also respond to the planet as well. I hope it is a very long answer, forgive me.
INUA: It is a brilliant answer, apologies for my doorbell, because WhatsApp has gone down, I have the keys to my neighbour's flat and she couldn't ‑ anyway, it is going to go off again, I will have to dart off. Thank you for your answer which was really expansive and what I expected given your mind and reading this book.
I do have one question to follow‑up, you talked about how the different many types of silences and, in the first poem arrival. You say as a deaf man, say you arrive as a deaf man and you want some quiet! So talk to me about what kinds of quiet you are searching for when you arrive in After Ness, what kind of quiet do you think Orford Ness bestows on a deaf man?
ILYA: Thank you for this question. There are different kinds of ‑ let me see if I can ‑ there are different kinds of quiet. You ask about the first poem when I immediately think about the last one. About in the middle of the last one: Silence is a self defence of people's pattern, people in whose faces other people's silence appears.
That is the kind of silence that you talk a lot about in our culture. The kind of silence that I would think is almost wanted by the hearing because silence is an invention of the hearing. Deaf people don't really believe on it. What does one believe what one is questioning the fiction of silence? A kind of stillness out of a creative innovation may come but also a kind of stillness in one which can approach the planet, the bit of the planet that is happening while everything human is happening, it is a parallel drama, drama of the sea gulls, the plant, the water. How can one enter in conversation with that? On one side as I mentioned we speak against silence but on another side it is silence itself.
INUA: Thank you. Another thing you talked about and the line just jumped out at me. It is in the poem called questions for visitors. You say, what will I do, I will stand without the camouflage of speech? That struck me because, I never think of speech as hiding things but there is a profound ity which silence brings in individuals, I wonder whether that is you hint to. What is camouflage, what do you see you think the hearing don't and see what you think the hearing don't?
ILYA: Thank you for exposing the book. As a poem, I am sure you will agree, we love language and yes completely delighted by, and in love with it. But we also question it, we know how much propaganda, but propaganda is an easy way out to question it. How much inadequacies, how inadequate it is to express a simple emotion? How many misunderstandings arrive from a simple word?
As somebody who comes from hard of hearing community can, all other things, because I grew up lip reading. My native language is of reading lips, Ukraine and then Soviet Union, I would see a person in the street, reading their lips and see somebody on the balcony reading the newspaper, somebody feeding their dogs, somebody across the street and falling from the bicycle. All of that is part of a sentence, a part of what one takes in, one watches lips move.
To give you a more precise in fact scientific kind of perspective on this, it is an experiment that was done a few decades ago, when scientists put let's say, I don't remember the exact number, 4 hearing people from different parts of the world in the same room. Let's say from Russian, Mexico, Poland and South Africa. You know, same room and left. Left them there for 6 hours. They come back, what did they see? Saw people sitting in 4 different corners and looking at the chatter was a little bit of suspicion, waiting for time to pass. Then they did the same thing when they put 4 deaf people from those different cultures, different parts of the world who did not have the same sign language, it is not universal, British and American sign language are different languages. They put them in the same room and left for 6 hours, what happened after they came back? People created a new language together. So that shows a kind of separation, not just from nature, be from our own bodies. I think every single poet completely relates to that. Poetry is a language, the empire wants us to be like this, all like dull right. Dull language. But the poet by definition, wants to bring, wants to have vividness of speech, speech that speaks about the slaughter ‑ a Professor of senses, he didn't say a Professor of creative writing at the university. He said poet as a Professor of senses. That is what is interesting, a place like Ness shows it is so vividly almost too dramatically if you will, suddenly, culture as we knew it in the 50's has gone, when all this nuclear weaponing was alive and speaking the language of this, it is gone and now we have peace and now we have little gulls and a lighthouse. That is also language, that is also speech. That is a different camouflage of speech. Even to us and politicians.
INUA: Thank you, like we have lighthouses and gulls and we also have owls and in one of the poems, the one called Owls you end with a play on words where the owls say, who, who, who. It is the sound that owls make but also refers to perhaps of the creator, some of those who worked at Orford Ness. Owls occupy a particular position in urban mythology, they are the wise ones, all seeing birds and I wondered if you can talk to me a little bit about what they played for you, discovering them at Ness but the play on words, of who, who, who on sounds and if you are hyperconscious of both when you write?
ILYA: Thank you for the question for your attention. I appreciate it.
I dare say I will have to step back a bit. My native language is not sound, it is images, simply because again I grown up hard of hearing and lip reading. You mention sounds and feel far more comfortable in. If I look at the question about sound and as where I come from, image and speak about the transition, I really have to, it is a language of poetic devices, poetic tools, that poets are speaking to. If you don't speak Ukrainian and so forth, speak in the native languages of, figurative language of alliteration, if I say image, it is international language, it has images and motion picture. One might get a different idea what it represents but still get an image.
Now sound can be a bit more complex, it is more local if you will, I don't know, since we are talking to the audience from Ukraine mostly, let's say, ... burning ... in the ..., frame the fearful symmetry ... now when you grew up as a child, it might be a lullaby, which was one that your mother sing to you. You grow up and think, what the hell? All the drama, what the hell? What is the, what is the foolness they bring, all of that is embodied in sound, if you say in Russian, or Ukrainian, the meaning can be lost, it can be a poem about a big cat.
Now what you fall into, it is repetition or rhythm. That for me is kind of curious because it can be translated into languages, it can be stolen from one language to another. The simple example would be poet is different, and yet similar and ... who really create a language of written that becomes it all. Somebody like Selan writes against German. It is not supposed to make sense in English or any language, it doesn't participate in the silence. Yet it makes total sense in how it is written.
Same thing with ... Trinidad and ‑ what it means to grow up in the language of the empire and ‑ writing in that language. You know, English is a mother tongue she says, but. She does a rhyme of language, where a language becomes a lot more when you break it and shows the broken, shows a lot more meaning than the actual order of noun and verbs and adjectives.
That kind of rhythm ‑ again, I suppose if we try to speak in more than one poetic tool, I try and play with sounds and see what develops.
INUA: I think that is a great thing to meditate on, as a Nigerian English was forced on me through colonialisation, my parents are from other parts of Nigeria, the aspect of my heritage, on my father's and mother's side I cannot access. As much as I find freedom within language, I am caged from other aspects of my identity. In writing as well like we say, we try to hack language and we try to break the spell of language in order to try and make new spells. You meditate on, in the poem, spell against bomb makers. You say this officers is common chick weed, in your poem, it is cast as if in witchcraft against bomb makers. Can you talk about the links between making spells and poetry, about creating incantation and how, and what bomb, what sort of medicine then poetry and can bring to humanity? What it can heal?
ILYA: Thank you so much for the question and for sharing your perspective on this. And so necessary. Because, if poetry doesn't ask these questions, it becomes stale so quickly, it can only be a life just a human dramatic, metaphysical personal questions of this, of the devices of what they represent.
Now to go with your question of spell, it is so easy to become new agey and spells and let's have a campfire and dance around it! Well I am all for dancing around campfires, let's do that. But where to get, the memory ability of speech, the poem, or the kind of poem that one understands but not quite, it doesn't push one away that mystery, but makes us want to come back and two years after and ten years after. That kind of memorable speech casts a spell on us.
I once talked to somebody in a class from Australia and I said, oh you are from Australia you might want to read this book. They read it and came back and said, I was crying because it is written in kind of Australian colloquial speech. I don't speak it now because I have another register of language. If you think about it. That kind of information that it doesn't just give back in acts. It is also a kind of a spell. It is not about a word, it is a word. I wish I knew how to do it? One can try and fail and fail again and fail better. But, that is what one is hoping for right? It is a kind of a speech that continues being fresh, continues being new. Long after the event has passed because, the pattern of that speech has contained in it certain life of an event has become an event of the old.
INUA: Yes, I think that's a really illuminating answer but I think you have done it in this book as you have in other, in other books of yours, you have definitely do cast spells. I wanted to talk a little bit about the other poem after her funeral I became an environmentalist.
As a Nigerian I am aware ‑ has twin daughters of a friend of mine, was framed by the government and executed. His death ways heavy on Nigerian environmentalists. I wanted to talk a little bit about this poem specifically and how you say, love the planet because my mother is in it.
I think Nigerian's are hyperaware of the planet. Leads know the question, if you think death is integral to love, do you, in the same way you love the planet because your mother is in it. Do you think those things are the both side of the same coin, can we separate them?
ILYA: Yes, thank you for this question, I wish I could answer it? We leave this question hoping to answer? I think one thing one realises, when a person you love passes from immediate conversation with you, which is a , is, the more you grieve, the more you hurt, the reflection on how much you love. You are hurting so much because you love. Not because you ‑ or something horrible happened. Obviously something horrible happened, it happens to everybody, you grieve so much because you loved so much in life. That for me was one of the lessons I didn't know, I learned unfortunately.
But I do have to say more in context of this specific project, I really had to kind of think about what am I going it write about if I write about this place where horrible things happened and horrible things to the planet. If I just stand up and on the podium and say, horrible, horrible, horrible, people are kind of expecting that. They delegate it. I would just play a little role of a poet in a capitalist framework, where they expect us to do it you know. So how do we turn it on its head and how we make people stop and think about it about what really happened. The thing of Chernobyl of the nuclear disaster, what is happening after them? There is still right now people moving back to Chernobyl which is still terribly contaminated. People are moving back to the area. Natural life it is incredibly hard and transformed and who knows how, we don't know the answers. But, just watching it might give us some kind of perspective and how do we live after something like this? After a disaster? For me, I am a city boy all my life. I grew up and moved to US and live in places, so forth, now in Atlanta. So very much a city person. But after somebody you love dies you begin to wonder about cities, also kind of a narrative. That we create and there by ignore the life of the planet of which we should be a part. For me this project was a kind of, a way to stop myself a little bit and to just stare at what's around.
INUA: I completely see that and how you had to, and how you take on so much both the natural world, how shed so much of your city living in order to be present in Orford Ness. For me that is also really suggested in this line, in the title of this poem which simply goes, "into which each man rides the broken horse of his spine and is not afraid" the title itself, the broke be horse of his spine suggests that the man here is both animal and man. It is both urban and suburban, both rural and urban and it just, it is so evocative of both the disconnection but also the connection and the potential for connection.
In this same poem you say, rain has eaten a quarter of me, yet I believe against all evidence these rain drops are my letters recommendation. On first reading I thought the recommendation was to God, or to a God figure of saying this is a good man, instead the recommendation, here is a man worth falling on. So doubles down on itself, really roots the man here in the landscape rather than reaching towards something beyond.
I was wondering if the letter of recommendation is to a God or to a sort of superhuman figure? How do you hold on to that idea of something greater than us and perhaps a positive force in a waste land like this which speaks to violence and structured planned dedicated deliberate violence?
ILYA: Once again I wish I had the answer! (laughs).
Yes, that is a personal and private answer I can only speak for myself alone. But I do have to say that at this point and 21st century, to me as human, organised religion has become a corporate entity. But the questions that it transposes earlier, what does it mean to be a human? The universe, the idea of the sound of a prayer is standing up and addressing the universe. I don't necessarily care which denomination or narrative and slapped it in the universe, that is around us. But human being, on earth, it is not going it go anywhere, whether or not a corporation of a particular organised religion is relevant or not to a particular culture.
To me what is interesting is like right now unfortunately we are here and on‑line platform, I wish we were in my kitchen and drinking tea ‑ I have some here and talking about all the persons, as two humans. To my mind, two human beings, asking impossible questions of each other, it is the beginning of a relation. It is the beginning of a certain spark of a certain connection which is far more interesting to me. I kind of reassure ... as opposed to busy people up so they don't look and see who is stealing what from whom.
That kind of connection of asking questions together humanly intimately of each other at the kitchen table is what interests me. Because we have done it as a species since forever and any poet would know poetic devices, often come from these kinds of conversations. Poetic devices, reputation and I did one class in anthropology, I am not an expert. A bunch of us around the fire didn't have language. We had a fire and a leader communicates, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, and so on and until he drop. Then everybody looked like, what just happened? What happened is, language was used in the early stages of human development as more than just a means of conveying communication, you called it a spell and another person call it something else. But this kind of a human, in a small‑group talking to each other and trying to address something that they don't understand, mysteries that makes us want to come back and ask the question again.
It is something that is, I don't pretend to have answers I just marvel here with you.
INUA: Thank you, talking a little bit again, just about the incantation of the word fire, there is a poem called mosquitoes here. I grew up in Nigeria until I was 12 years old, attacked by those insects over and over again, I suffered from malaria a few times. Read this poem here, took me back of the experiences of these little things buzzing around and you describe them as drilling in the air a hole. Which is so specific and a precise a description of the noise they make when they flick past you. In my experience that hole was a black hole and also came with a very, a very real fear because of you know the friends of mine who suffered from malaria and those extended members of my family who passed with it. James Cameron talked about making Avatar and he got the idea to make that film when he was creating titanic. They had built this robotic submarine, which was trawling the beds of the Atlantic Ocean looking for this ship. He said, he felt like his consciousness transported into this little ship sailing through the ocean bed. I wondered then, if the mosquito perhaps gave you that same sense of being in Orford Ness, that it transported you there? Are you mosquito or man in this poem?
ILYA: Very interesting. Thank you once again to give me a window to steal the context of the question. Thank you.
Wow! That's interesting question. For me, it is always because it is not my native language, poetry is so tied up to simply not know the word sometimes. So you have two words but not the third. Mosquito is it real, the right word or not? Partly when you have a new culture, you know having come to UK, for me coming to the different language, one really has to rely on figurative speech and I may not know the third word but I know the other two, I can make them do something up predictable, put them together and make a baby, a metaphor, or similar, so, they create something I didn't expect. It comes out of a need, out of a language, because it is not my native language but those are kind of luck, a kind of a fortunate thing not to know the third word and say the predictable but to wonder and see what else can a mosquito can do or can kind of a word describe or become. I didn't really expect either a mosquito or a man out of your question, I am glad it happened that way. That you came up with such a question. That for me happens because of a figurative language, what can I say that is real about a mosquito? I didn't think of malaria, that you described for me. But of course you are right, of course it happens as we speak.
But I think this is beauty of what poetry can offer to us, at as figurative speech that we can know, no matter when, how why it is approached. That is why poetry it is an obsession for me, it can allow the opportunity, doesn't mean I get it right but I am obsessed with it because it is possible.
INUA: So you might have stumbled into this accidentally, in Page 38 of this beautiful book you described England as a helium balloon. For me, that also perfectly describes where this country is now politically, having detached ourself from the European Union, we are floating borderlessly to our neighbours, right now fuel shortages across the country because of the distribution problems because we have left Brexit and sorry, we have left the European Union as a result of Brexit. I wonder if that was deliberate if you will? Or those were deliberately asked political connotations or again if this was stumbled upon, or if there are other lines in this book that speak to politics more directly?
ILYA: Sure absolutely. I tend not to think about all of that at this moment. To my mind, there is a lot, I read this earlier, the last poem. Silence is a self defence of people's pattern, people in whose faces other people's silence appears.
This image that you are giving us now, the, the balloon, of course it is so. The question for me is, again in this kind of context, with such an outside subject of nuclear weaponry, I think it would be too easy to dismiss that separating good and bad. If we don't know it is bad, we need to go back to school.
I think, what I try to do was to point out hey folks we all die. So why are we doing? Let's pay attention to what happens after we have gone and what we have done while we are here.
The other thing that I want to say is, this kind of division that happens a lot in North America and Western Europe specifically and only is separation of poetry, political poetry and nonpolitical poetry.
Forgive me for my Russian but it is bull shit! That separation is completely artificial. The neighbours and legal stuff, numerous other poets they would dream about calling their poetry political. No it is about lives of people around you, around at that time. That is why those poets became so much larger than life for their communities.
I think anyone who would separate poetry in a political manner it is really saying well, I speak from a position of privilege, where it is possible to separate it. I mean any poet, you can speak about ... and be political. What is political is if not to human peoples speaking to each other or not? Or deciding not to speak or what has happened? Or deciding not to point out ... poetry is not just about horror, horror, horror, what kind of witness it is, if you witness 50% of what happens, what about the other 50%? It is a job to have a full picture not only a part of it.
INUA: Thank you again for really expansive answer, I have a few questions from some of our viewers. The first one is from Debra Kelly, she asks: In a poem, how does emotion enter an object? Poem how does emotion enter an object?
ILYA: That's a question I ask myself everyday, to be able to write one. It is a mystery how emotion enters the subject but luckily enough we do have, poetic devices. I am speaking from United States, I will give you an example of a American poet. Devices, anybody who read it, it is enough for repetition as a beginning of every line. That is true, but that is only part of the answer. If you see all the bad imitators of them, you will see how they imitate but they don't have the power of it. So how ‑ you close with your ‑ the beginning of every first line and you look at what happens in the rest of the sentence and line. You know there is a lot of alliteration, beautiful images like the world of slumbering and ‑ you notice the amazing long sentence, Goldman, sentences try to be operatic, I allowed him to put, eager, if you are honest with each other, in the forms. Make art out of them. It is that tension between craft and emotion. That creates art. You don't just stop and yelling, you need to have art and craft but you don't become ‑ with a line break. You need human, human attentiveness to other humans. Human anger and furry and tenderness. You speak in a language of poetic devices. We don't speak in Russian, French and so forth. We speak in the language of poetry and that allows us to deal with our emotions in a way they become other people's emotions, to my mind the great work, it is not somebody who speaks from a stadium to thousands of people with a microphone. It is a person in their room privately in their room, who is able to ask questions, strangely enough, musically enough. So that the poem can speak privately to many people at the same time.
INUA: Thank you, I have another question from Emma. She says: I am a third year literature student looking to write my dissertation on Orford Ness, how did you research for I See a Silence, did you found ... from Rings of Saturn for example?
ILYA: Yes, of course there is a lot of great literature, like ... is very much a human writer. Rings of Saturn, it is a great book about how do we deal with history, how it ended, what happened?
I also personally number one, I need to read it and I need to know what others have done, I need to realise my own limitations, I ask myself, how can I build something out of those limitations? So they don't, so they stop being limitations and start being building devices and in this case, I would say about images. Much of this book was built out of images because I realise, that is something, no one who has spoken about the Orford Ness, he has spoken from a perspective of lip reading person.
Now I don't say in the book that I am a lip reading person, it might be an interesting project for somebody else. But, what I try to do is look from that perspective and then ask, what is strange, what is studious? I am very much a person interested in the on on beginning crisis, the crisis of our time. One German poet once said, the war is no longer declared, it is simply continued. That was very much in mind, I was writing this poems but I wanted to write them in a vocabulary that was new for me. I was just finished kind of a story, a fable and in republic which was trying to answer for me, certain questions about our moment and I thought okay, it is very different vocabulary, I can use. The first question I asked of Michael. Who was Artangel for me in this project. I asked, what is flora and fauna? What grows there, who lives there now? How I can be in conversation with whoever living organism in the place, how can I understand that vocabulary, that language and bring it into my work and perspective?
So to put it simply, you want to ask yourself number one, what is your obsession? What are you obsessed with? Number two, what are poetic devices, that very comfortable, you all want to learn about and fall in love with. You can put intention with that obsession. You learn something new, about your obsession and about the devices meaning English, what English can do in your obsession? What can you obsession to make us uncomfortable and by obsession, because you are human, most likely, I mean you have obsessions that other peoples have, impossible questions that we all have. So what it is that makes you want to go back to Orford Ness? From your perspective? From your life?
If you are writing a dissertation, you will want to ask, what rhetorical questions do I have? What are the areas that I can love and bring it into Orford Ness, that I can unpack a little bit. What I can learn about it and from it. If you are writing from a theoretical perspective. I, as a poet work from a perspective of poetic tools, I have to ask that the language of poetic tools. The dialectic, bring our obsession out of impossible questions and try to answer them with our tools at hand.
INUA: Thanks Ilya, this is a comment from Ruth say, she says it is amazing to hear Ilya say he was a city boy. I thought his poetry was rooted in the earth, plants, sea creatures that I heard of Orford Ness, more of a comment. Although you can add something to that if you want to?
ILYA: Thank you.
INUA: This is a question from Forest, dear Ilya, you remarked on the inadequacy of spreading emotion in relation to propaganda, what needs to be added to emotion to be an adequate thing to be spread?
ILYA: Well Forest you ask impossible questions. I think the knowledge of one's limitations, it would be the first to consider. I am, kind of what I do from a Russian tradition, or eastern European tradition, the person I have to ask myself is, what are the limitations? It is so heavily based in emotion. So, the question for me would be, what is the intersection between ideal and emotion, thought and emotion how does it penetrate the mystery of the place, the mystery of questions we try to answer and yet are unable to. What makes us want to answer them? What does the idea that underlines our emotions to begin with. What does the structure of society that calls us to have this emotions. Then remember every time we have an emotion number one, it means that we cannot have an emotion number two and often times society structured in a way for us to have political response and so, for me, having a book of protest, I wonder as well. I have spent 15 years writing Deaf Republic, what I have not been doing in those 15 years, what kind of vocabulary I did not engage with, in those 15 years? Because, every time we do something, in this capitalist world, it means somebody else goes to the bank right? So, what else can I do to subvert the expectation? The previous question or comment was, well, I am city boy, how do I write about the land or lose myself in the land? It can be an emotional question, it doesn't have to be, it can be a question about society, how can I subvert the expectation of myself? How can I not have the emotion of a certain kind?
The other thing I want to point out is the poetic ‑ mainly poet and culture, we value a value a certain impairment. Say in 1990's, the author of rings of Saturn, perhaps the leading man of the moment and end of 20th century looking back, making sense of what happened. I think the majority of humans would agree, it is probably not the leading spirit of the crisis we are in now. Folks are probably looking for a different kind of voice right now. There is also an interesting thing to consider, what is there about the time that calls for a particular voice with a particular kind of impairment to reflect that time? For example, when we think about 19th century, with say this is the poet of 19th century, we wouldn't say that Emily Dickinson is not a poet of ‑ but it is how, how we are structured. If we say Alexander pope was a poet ‑ one poem from ‑ so much more interesting than everything, it is a great poet. I am just saying there is really a disconnect between a human emotion and emotion of a poet and emotions that speaks in culture to a particular moment in time. Then it is kind of interesting to think about to see how we are frame it as writers indeed and how we can subvert that.
INUA: Thank you Inua, a few more questions and we will be wrapping up soon, maybe one or two more questions.
A few people have mentioned the role of the sound designed by Axel I will try and pronounce the surname, ‑ in the audio version of your poetry, how did this relationship come about and how did the collaboration work? Please forforgive me if I mispronounce his surname.
ILYA: That came through ‑ look I am here speaking about my poems, but Artangel is a lot more, it is an installation of different kinds of art. It is a different kind of universe, take poetry and run away with it and create something new. I am a hard of hearing person, I am not aware of. But it is possible to ask in this moment and 21st century, that would not have been possible before because of technology. That Artangel is really a smart about using, about making art of, about subversion the expectation, Michael will probably give much more interesting answer than I can. I can just say, I stand here amazed and watch what others do.
INUA: Thank you. Just to correct myself, surname is pronounced Kah‑coo‑tee‑a who are fans from his work.
This is another question, from Olga, what does your writing practice look like? Is it structured like quantify based or spontaneous?
ILYA: You can probably see the bookshelf right behind me, it is not structured. So, my writing is not exactly structured. I kind of delight in that. I delight in the, I don't organise my books alphabetically, I organise them by poetic devices. The alliteration poets go there and so forth.
That requires me to change my bookshelf all the time because some poets don't alliteration and they also do line breaks. I organise it by what I am needing at the moment, what a particular poem needs at the moment. The life of a poem. So, all my writing process, just as my library, the poem I am trying to live inside of. It is very, it is very physical kind of activity for me. Sometimes I, read the poem backwards line by line. Sometimes I have it into line, sometimes I read the third line, 5th line and see what discoveries can be made. Majority of the time, I write it and put it away for a months and a year and come back to it later.
You know, the diary ‑ she would revise poem levels by hand, 8 times or more, 8 times with meaning and every time he had rewrote it. He had to re‑envision the whole thing, Chapter by chapter. ... who am I not to have to do it?
Nothing but a challenge, it is a kind of a delight for them to live in the work, to live with words. Sometimes I have a little box or 5 little books and I cut images and things I love. So when I do have an obsession, when I have something to say, I have materials to support myself. It is like, when you have an idea, what kind of house you want to build, you need door handles, you need bricks and cement. It is nice to have it but also those completely unrelated wildly unrelated of the images or with the sound can completely change your obsession and make it grow and develop and taking it somewhere else entirely.
That is the beauty of making this for me, so I don't dictate to it in conversation with it. I don't know if I could call it a writing process, it is more of a living practice.
INUA: I have the last question which I think is rather apt, what is society without poetry? From Alan Morel.
ILYA: I don't have imagination enough to answer it. Other than to say, ... has already answered it. It is not a society we want to live in. I mean why would you want to live in a society without poetry?
INUA: Yes. Thank you so much Ilya, for your conversation and for your really, really expansive questions. No doubt, those listening have enjoyed sharing this hour with you, with your work and with your mind. I would really like to thank those who are listening and watching on YouTube for joining us and tracking us down despite the global shortages in Twitter, sorry in Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp and thank you for still finding us and sharing this evening with. Ilya, anything you would like to share with the viewers before we go?
ILYA: I just want to express my gratitude for everyone who has wasted their time listening to all of this! Thank you for believing in this conversation and thanks to you for being here, for being so attentive and so kind. Thank you. Thank you for your own writing and work which is so important.
Thanks to Artangel for putting us together, to Michael who has been doing this kind of conversation, this kind of surprises for decades. Thank you. And thank you to Charmian for creating, the technological problems happening right now, the social media and other forms of communication, we are still here and we are still speaking. So thank you for that.
INUA: Thank you.