From May 2022, The La Romita 2020 Online Poetry Community’s Kaminsky Prompt Poems – Part Two

Dwight – guide dog in training


(With thanks to Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic)

Deafness passes through us like a police whistle
Dogs understand everything and
bark and bark

Ilya Kaminsky from the poem Alfonso Stands Answerable from Deaf Republic, Graywolf Press, 2019

Teaching Dwight
Not to bark when he sees
Not to bark when he hears

As a service dog in training
He is learning to keep
His bark to himself
To not react

He is rewarded
He looks up to me
For direction
Remains silent

“Good job”
“Good decision”
“Good Boy Dwight”

I too have learnt
Been rewarded
To turn a deaf ear
To not whistle blow

“Good girl Sarah”

Sarah Wilsom, May, 2022

Preface to the Series: The La Romita 2020 Online Poetry Community’s Kaminsky Prompt Poems

In June 2020 a group of poets gathered on-line for a week’s generative poetry retreat that I facilitated. Most of the poets had been registered for a ten-day poetry retreat at the La Romita School of Art in Terni, Umbria, which was cancelled because of the pandemic. Thus, the La Romita 2020 Online Poetry Community was formed and subsequently most, but not all, of those poets have gathered three or four times a year to share poems inspired by prompts suggested by the La Romita 2020 Online participants.

One of the recent poetry prompt challenges came a month or so after the beginning of the war in Ukraine in late February 2022. That challenge was based on lines chosen by Calgary-based poet Joan Shillington from the Ukrainian/American poet Ilya Kaminsky’s 2019 poetry collection, Deaf Republic, published by Graywolf Press. To see a link to my review of Deaf Republic in The Literary Review please click here.

Kaminsky’s book, one for the ages, feels like an eerie premonition of the Ukrainian war as it is set in an imagined town/city called Vasenka invaded by a foreign army. When I look up Vasenka online I discover it’s a surname most commonly found in Russia and Ukraine. That’s why using this collection to inspire our own poems in response to the war in Ukraine seemed so appropriate.

After hearing these poems in a Zoom gathering this past May I wanted to feature these poems in a blog series to honour these important poems and the people of Ukraine and to help us who live far away from that war and its atrocities to stay awake to its grim reality. And in this we also honour Ilya and his now much-shared poem from Deaf Republic: We Lived Happily During the War. This is Part Two of a three or four part series. Part One featured poems by Nancy Issenman, Pat Scanlan and Linda Crosfield.

Part Two of The La Romita 2020 Online Poetry Community’s Kaminsky Prompt Poems


Calgary-based caligrapher and poet, Sarah Wilson at Marta, beside Lake Bolsena, Lazio, Italy, May 2022

I was gobsmacked when I first heard the epigraph poem to this blogpost by caligrapher, poet, guide dog trainer and former financial planner, Sarah Wilson from Calgary. How she took a line from Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic in the context of the Ukraine war and found in it a huge personal truth. The bravery that a good poem requires. Or, should, I say the authenticity a good poem requires. While I am so grateful for this poem I am also grateful to Sarah for running Zoom for all our on-line gatherings and the way she keeps coming back to the in-country La Romita retreats including the one this past May!

Isn’t this the joy of a creative mind, that Sarah could read Kaminsky’s lines about dogs that bark and bark, reflect that her job as a guide dog trainer is teach them not to bark and then take the big leap and realize how much of her cultural training has been not to speak out (bark) or become a whistle blower in business. And I think of all the times a culture teaches us not to bark.  And how I am chilled by Sarah’s last line: Good girl Sarah. It says it all.

I also so appreciate the crafted simplicity of Sarah’s poem. Her use of anaphoric repetitions: the double not in stanza one, the double he in stanza two and three and the triple good in stanza four echoed again in the last wonderful line. This drives the poem forward to its devestating and surprising conclusion.

The next Kaminsky response poem is by Whitehorse-based kjmunro (Kathy Munro) a poet who specializes in reading and writing Japanese haiku. And in her poem she shows she also knows something about the glosa form. And she added  to the basic form in a way I was not familiar with. She took what I think of as the basic glosa form: incorporating another poet’s lines in your poem using four lines of another poet’s poem, each line, in order, at the end of four ten-line stanzas and then she added rhyming end words at line six, nine and ten!

news flash – a glosa

I do not hear gunshots,
but watch birds splash over the backyards of the suburbs. How bright is the sky
as the avenue spins on its axis.
How bright is the sky (forgive me), how bright.

— Ilya Kaminsky from In a Time of Peace from Deaf Republic, Graywolf Press, 2019

in this wilderness city
across the pond
I am free to turn the TV off
& on
I can choose to vote
where ravens strut like despots
mocking truth
& reconciliation
still the New World sticks to its melting pots
I do not hear gunshots

or see the flare of missiles
across the stars
or smell fires burning rubble
terror dulled by routine
bodies left on roadways
where no one says goodbye
I no longer care for news
I no longer buy the paper
I no longer cry
but watch birds splash over the backyards of the suburbs – how bright is the sky

as earth tilts again toward Yukon summer
each day gains light
until all there is
is light
though we all know
darkness wanes & waxes
slowly creeping seeping at the corners
but for now
everyone in my neighbourhood relaxes
as the avenue spins on its axis

& the world twists headlines
blue guilt yellow shame
I confront the calm of my tidy street
cars queued at the curb
snow melting on the lawn
inner peace fills my line of sight
but meditation is not
through tears at midnight
how bright is the sky (forgive me) how bright

kjmunro, May, 2022

Whitehorse-based poet kjmunro

The key in a successful glosa is how seamlessly you can incorporate the other poet’s lines in your powm. kj does this masterfully. She takes the main theme in Kaminsky’s poem about how we can go about our daily lives and forget about awful things like war going on somewhere else and gives the theme a freshness through the specifics of her daily life in the Yukon. Especially in this stanza:

as earth tilts again toward Yukon summer
each day gains light
until all there is
is light
though we all know
darkness wanes & waxes
slowly creeping seeping at the corners
but for now
everyone in my neighbourhood relaxes
as the avenue spins on its axis

Yes the wonderful specifics of kj living in the land of the midnight sun but also the wider metaphorical implications of: we all

know/darkness wanes & waxes. This key challenge: how do stay present to the light even as we know the dark is never far away. And how to honour the dark as we stand in the light? Kathy’s poem is such an honouring of both the dark now in Ukraine and the light in her life as she wrote her poem.

Bowen Island-based poet Amrita Sondhi

The last poet I feature in Part Two of the Kaminsky response series is Bowen Island-based Amrita Sondhi, poet,  clothing business owner and designer. Amrita not only particpated in the 2020 online La Romita retreat but has made it to the in-country retreat twice! I keep coming back to this poem and its interplay between yes and no, light and dark. How much she puts into it without losing focus.


Disparate Dreams

—After Ilya Kaminsky

I won’t say anything
gold rays streaming
through old growth forests
tiny purple flowers, by fallen logs.

I won’t say anything
in full bloom,
while you are in -10 weather.

I won’t say anything
the war in Ukraine,
Shock therapy,
or Naomi Klein.

We have gotten used to the war
in Israel and Palestine,
the war in Syria,
boat people fleeing,
landing, if lucky,
on the shores of Lesbos.

I won’t say anything
about black lives mattering,
reminded each day
there is no longer
any “us or them”.

that the only way,

‘We are in this together”;
the world-wide slogan of covid 19
or “build back better”

can ever
make any sense
is if we know
that when we point a gun
we point it at ourselves.

I won’t say anything
Byron Katie
and the work so many have been doing
collectively in the world.

I won’t say anything
One world,
One people,
One community,
One planet,
One extended family,
so many hues, cues and religions,
And the ravines being built
to divide us.

I won’t say anything
about world peace
or the play of light and dark.

Amrita Sondhi, May 2022

What grabbed me from the get go with Amrita’s poem is her use of the contradictory anaphora I won’t say anything about. It ties the poem together so well as it drives it forward. And the way she contradicts the anaphora by telling us what she says she won’t tell us adds a tension that energises the poem.

The other tenchique Amrita uses so well is the move from a close-in focus (specific images) to a wider focus that widens even further at the poem’s end with big abstractions. The specifics of gold rays streaming/ through old growth forests to one world,/ one people,/ one community. And how effectively this poem screams out its opposition to aso many of the dark things in our world without being preachy . And partly, I think it’s due to her effective use of I won’t say  anything about. She gives us the picture and challenges us to respond.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *