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Theophilus Kwek

‘The Clearest Voice’: Of Poetry and Protest Deaf Republic, Ilya Kaminsky, Faber & Faber, 2019, 96pp, £10.99 (paperback) Flèche, Mary Jean Chan, Faber & Faber, 2019, 88pp, £10.99 (paperback)

As I write this, the people of Hong Kong are gearing up for their thirteenth consecutive weekend of protests since Chief Executive Carrie Lam introduced her now-withdrawn extradition Bill in June –  protests which, in recent weeks, have seen increasing police brutality matched by sheer willpower on the part of the protestors. Pressure has been building ahead of the weekend’s demonstrations: international news stations have reported military vehicles of the People’s Liberation Army ferrying troops across the border, while more than twenty key opposition figures (including Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, who played a critical role in the 2014 Occupy protests) have been put behind bars.

Friends in Hong Kong report a sense of grim determination settling across the streets, and, despite everything, a faith to carry on. So, turning to Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic on this troubled morning, it is perhaps no accident that I hear echoes of the way they describe the city they love: ‘It has begun’, he writes, ‘I see the blue canary of my country / pick breadcrumbs from each citizen’s eyes…’ (‘4 a.m. Bombardment’). Set in a fictional, occupied territory resembling the Soviet Union of his birth, Kaminsky’s sophomore collection tells the story of Vasenka: a village that, in response to the shooting of a deaf child by the invading forces, collectively chooses deafness as a mode of resistance. In breathless stopmotion, each consecutive poem sketches another scene in the action, their titles forming the book’s storyboard: ‘Gunshot’–‘Alfonso, in Snow’– ‘Deafness, an Insurgency, Begins’.

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