Local San Diego: Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Ferris

Ilya Kaminsky & Katie Ferris presented by the reading series at the San Diego Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park 3/23/12

I’m breaking out of my UCSD bubble and attending readings in the larger world! Tonight’s event featured husband and wife Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Ferris, both professors at San Diego State University. The event took place amongst the paintings and photos and other art that lines the walls of the museum. The museum is housed inside the sprawling acres of gorgeous that is Balboa Park.

Katie Ferris read first, choosing some selections from her book BoysGirls. Described as fairytales for adults, she presented a couple of short stories including such topics as a girl with a mirror for a face and a girl who couldn’t shit on the devil’s face. It’s very deliciously Aimee Bender in that way. Her short stories are definitely short- at least the ones she read couldn’t be more than a page or two in length. But all were quite quirky and beautiful in their own ways. The close of the story about the girl with a mirror for a face says something to the effect of, “I’m not only empty, but I contain multitudes”.

Her husband, Ilya Kaminsky read next. Now, if you’re the type of person who gets up in the morning, thinks about how much your life sucks, and proceeds to throw yourself a pity party, take note. Ilya is a deaf poet. He lost his hearing at the age of four. Some time afterwards, his family moved from Russia to the US. Not only does Ilya speak and understand English well, he’s a professor. Still think your life is hard and you should give up now? Keep walking.

Listening to Ilya read is quite the experience. For one thing, he passes around copies of his work for the audience to look at while he reads. I would love it if more authors did this. I consider myself to be a visual, not auditory person. As such, I sometimes get lost listening to people speak because I spent too long trying to puzzle out a word. Ilya passes the books around I suspect so that the audience can get more enjoyment. Though I suppose that enjoyment is relative. Ilya is hard to understand, but he’s hard to understand because when he speaks, it sounds like English, Russian, and music all at once. Really. All at once. That description doesn’t even really begin to adequately describe what’s happening. This is poetry that transcends poetry as we know it.

The evening was followed up by an open mic session. There were a good amount of students from SDSU there and it was clear how much they love Katie and Ilya. As I attend a good amount of open mic nights, it was interesting to check out the scene at this one. It definitely has a different sort of a flavor. While many are skewed towards the young, this one featured equal representation from the opposite end of the age spectrum. Very interesting to hear and experience, especially as for many of the speakers, this was their first time.

There was one poet who came up who had an interesting premise. Apparently, he spent a year “quitting stuff” and is now spending a year “doing stuff”. The poem was the response to all that. But it was interesting to think about what that looks like. A year of quitting and a year of doing. I want to take up such an experiment.

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