Biography

A profile photograph of Michael G. Khmelnitsky in 2022

My name is Michael G. Khmelnitsky (he / him / his). I am a queer, neuro­divergent poet and trans­lator. I hold a Ph.D. in literary translation studies and I have been writing poetry for 27 years.

I was born in Moscow, in the imaginary country known as the U.S.S.R., lived in Israel—during the Gulf War and First Intifada—and in Canada, and then worked in Japan and the United States.

Before the COVID Pandemic, I visited more than twenty-five countries. At any given point in time, I know between three and five languages. I have been writing and translating poetry and prose since 1996. I have written more than 1,000 poems, some of which have appeared in Uprooted and The Liar.

In 2005, I self-published Granville, my first poetry collection, followed by the antipoem epic Go Fish in 2006. In 2009, I completed my first large-format poem, Silo 28, followed by its sequel Cathedral in 2010. In 2015, I finished researching and defended Sex, Lies, and Red Tape, a dissertation on Soviet censorship and mis­translation of American Satire into Russian during the Cold War. In 2021, I completed a new book of poems yet to be published.

I live on Vancouver Island. In time free from work, I agonize over the written line, organize queer poetry evenings, tend to plants, keep house, make love, and go on long drives to nowhere in particular.

Aside from poems unborn, stillborn, unwritten, destroyed, or lost, I have—to date—made about 987 poems, including 353 pieces of juvenilia, 51 translations, 32 found poems, 31 dirty limericks, 1 self-censored piece, as well as 29 pieces in a top-secret poetic cycle (currently not on this website).

Timeline

The following is a timeline of my poetic career and encounters with other literary figures.

 
I write "I am", my first poem in English, in Ms. Barthel's ninth-grade English class.
 
I write « Trois poèmes », my first translations from English to French for M. Barois’s eleventh-grade IB French HL class.
 
I read, for the first time, at the Sir Winston Churchill Secondary twelfth-grade International Baccalaureate Retreat.
 
I write "Cappelbaum's Protest", the first of many poems that will include the alter ego that I purloined from the late Stanley Cooperman.
 
I write "Cliché Manifesto v.1.0", my first artistic credo.
 
I receive a reply to my letter to Michael Turner.
 
I meet Turner at a talk at Langara College. His bearing and storytelling electrify me.
 
Joey from Yorkshire contacts me about performing "people waiting at the bus/stop". He incorporates the poem into his theatrical piece and performs it on stage at York St John University on May 19, 2005.
 
Joey incorporates "people waiting at the bus/stop" into his theatrical piece and performs it on stage at York St John University.
 
I attend Sex with Michael Turner at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Turner reads excerpts from Harlequins and shares chocolates.
 
I write my first poem collection Granville, inspired by Turner's Kingsway.
 
I write the first poem in a cycle inspired by Christian Bök's Eunoia. I don't yet know any better.
 
I read for the second time, at an open mic event at Behind the Scenes, a café on Broadway Street in Vancouver. Turner comes out to support me, despite being cheerfully inebriated.
 
I read for the third time, at the same venue. My selection of poems falls on deaf ears. Exasperated by an audience member's question, "But what does it mean?" I blurt out, "It's an intellectual thing" and beat a hasty retreat.
 
I listen to Douglas Coupland and Chuck Palahniuk read at the Frederic Wood Theatre at UBC. Coupland bores the audience with excerpts from JPod. Palahniuk throws stink bombs and plastic excrement into the audience while reading "Mister Elegant", a story about an epileptic male stripper.
 
Two of my poems, "buffer overflow" and "Chinaski meets Cappelbaum" (the latter inspired by the doppelgängers of Cooperman and Charles Bukowski) are published in the first and last issue of Uprooted.
 
Somebody nominates me for Poet-Laureate of the Blogosphere. I lose 95:2 to Ron Silliman and write "From a Hack to the Poet-Laureate of the Blogosphere". While perhaps an uncouth response, it summarizes pretty well my total disdain for language poetry.
 
I record the audiopoem Go Fish, inspired by Jackson Mac Low, William S. Burroughs, Nicanor Parra, and Hugo Ball (in the mouth of Bök).
 
I write «за соседним столиком», my first extant poem in Russian.
 
I write "at the next table", my first extant translation from English to Russian.
 
I write 「多分詩」, my first poem in Japanese.
 
I write «Сонет 130», my first poetic translation from English to Russian.
 
I hold Silo 28, my fourth, hour-long poetry reading at Derek Choy's house in Vancouver. I read twenty-eight poems, featuring the eponymous long poem inspired by Charles Olson's The Maximus Poems. Turner comes out to support me, despite suffering from influenza, and (impressed by the 11" × 17" sheets of paper on which I handwrote "Silo 28") implies an opportunity for me to take part in an alphabetic project ongoing at the time at the Vancouver Central Library and expresses an interest in helping me publish some of the pieces from my poetic cycle in a large format. I learn, as the Russians say, that promise is not profligacy.
 
I write "a pretty girl", my first poetic translation from Japanese to English.
 
I move to Waterloo to begin my M.A. program in literary studies.
 
I meet George Eliot Clarke at a reading at UWaterloo. He assures me that there is nothing wrong with confessional poetry.
 
I meet Bök at a reading at St. Jerome's University. His passion and energy convince me to continue working on my poem cycle. I don't yet suspect a thing.
 
I hold Cathedral, my fifth poetry reading, at my house in Waterloo. I read twenty-nine poems, featuring the eponymous sequel to "Silo 28".
 
I hold a telephone interview about Poetry in Voice with Scott Griffin, founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize.
 
I move to Calgary to begin my Ph.D. program in translation studies.
 
I meet Jeramy Dodds at the Hello/Goodbye event at the Arrata Opera House, and fall in love with his "Canada." I don't yet know any better.
 
Bök breaks my heart during and following his presentation on The Xenotext. Years later, I mock the "words" of Bök's asinine bacterium in To the Ex Next.
 
Dodds agrees to advise me on my poem cycle. "Nothing will come of nothing."
 
I listen to Dodds read at a lovely, full WordFest event at The Club of The Banff Centre.
 
I co-create "Wasteland-o-Matic" with Martin Schauss by using PHP and MySQL. It serves as a basis for Martin's "Evil Flowers."
 
I hold Cathedral II, my sixth poetry reading, at Rose Guenther's house in Calgary. I read thirty poems, featuring a slightly-revised version of the eponymous long poem. Dodds comes out to support me.
 
I read "the defenestration of poesy" for Jess Nicol's Possible Side Effects May Include...: 12 Steps to Better Graduate-Level Fiction video.
 
I read for the seventh time for the 2012 Free Exchange Conference Creative Night at Pages Books on Kensington: "there are languages...", "Sitting in Class with a Professor Who Had Us Read Martin Heidegger", "the poet rears his ugly head", and "four minutes thirty-three seconds of noise".
 
"found poem XIV or roughing it in the bush, 2848" is displayed at the Taylor Family Digital Library at the University of Calgary during Poetry Month.
 
Dodds breaks my heart.
 
Bök breaks my balls for the last time.
 
I co-write "In connection with Hitler—a contemplation", my first poetic translation from Polish to English, with Błażej Krukowski.
 
I hold «слог и слово», my eighth poetry reading, at my house in Calgary. My friend Rod Moody-Corbett reads the introduction to the program. I read thirty-one poems.
 
I read for the ninth time for August Flywheel at Pages: "piss stains on tan pants...", "And could you?", "reform school for repeat offenders or noise in the head", "Yesterday I found out that...", and "three oh two a.m. air".
 
I write «Девушка с очками», my first poetic translation from Hebrew to Russian.
 
I give Chuck Palahniuk a letter at a WordFest event at the John Dutton Theatre. He asks me whether the envelope contains anthrax; I assure him that it does not. I listen to Palahniuk read "Guts" and "Zombie". Palahniuk gets everyone to blow up large, luminescent beach balls, write questions on them, and throw them around. At various points during the reading, he throws lots of candy and stuffed "pussy" into the audience.
 
I write 「杯の泡」, my first poetic translation from English to Japanese.
 
I hold Mutatis Mutandis, my tenth poetry reading, at my house in Calgary. Hollie Adams reads the introduction to the program. I read thirty-two poems.
 
I meet Lawrence Venuti at an event at the University of Calgary. He gives my dissertation a new direction.
 
I read for the eleventh time for June Flywheel at Pages: "Palæmon", "dangerous times", Cappelbaum Judenstern, the portage to san cristóbal of m. k., confession of the neighbourhood arsonist, and Saturday.
 
I hold found in translation, my twelfth poetry reading, at Rod's house in Calgary. Jess reads the introduction to the program. I read thirty-three poems.
 
I read for the thirteenth time for the 2015 Free Exchange Conference Creative Night at Loft 112: «за соседним столиком», "at the next table", 「きれいな女の子」, "a pretty girl", 「変わりない」, "nothing special", «вечер в фукуоке», "an evening in fukuoka", "Der Tanz des Nashorns", "every narrator is unreliable (unfinished)", «сик транзит», "sick transit", "Блевать или плакать", and "To Cry or to Vomit".
 
I write "Transsiberian Ozymandias", my first translation from German to English.
 
I successfully defend my dissertation, Sex, Lies, and Red Tape: Ideological and Political Barriers in Soviet Translation of Cold War American Satire, 1964-1988, earning the title of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).
 
I read for the fourteenth time for August Flywheel, at Pages: "i," "About What You Can Write", "A Hare Can Be Anywhere", "Transsiberian Ozymandias", "said the learnèd philosopher", and "Thou and You".
 
I hold twenty, my fifteenth poetry reading, at my house in Vancouver. O.S., reads the introduction to the program. I read twenty-three poems.
 
JoAnne Growney mentions "The Gaussian Function" in Intersections – Poetry with Mathematics.
 
I write "The Poet Steve Olive" in response to an assault on my poetic sensibilities by Stephen Oliver (New Zealand's so-called poet-laureate).
 
I hold nothing to write home about, my sixteenth poetry reading, at my house in Vancouver. Derek reads the introduction to the program. I read thirty-six poems.
 
I hold Bring-a-Poem I at my house in Vancouver. Five friends attend and share their favourite poetic works.
 
I hold Bring-a-Poem II at my house in Vancouver. Three friends attend and share their favourite poetic works.
 
One of my poetic translations, "Primary Catalogue of the Order of Delectation", and two of my poems, "Cappelbaum Gets a Divorce" and "style fully wonderful", are published in the Spring 2018 (Volume 19) issue of The Liar.
 
I read for the seventeenth time for The Liar launch and the wUrdz full mOOn lit open mic event at Kings Cafe on Kingsway Street in Vancouver: "a list of people I have killed", "The Great Depression of 2073", "radiator", "Cappelbaum Gets a Divorce," "style fully wonderful," and "Primary Catalogue of the Order of Delectation."
 
S.G.S., my future second ex-wife, pitches her roman-à-clef-cum-Bildungsroman novel and tells me the story that will later become the novel's first chapter. I consider the story to be "a profound ontological shock" and encourage S.G.S. to begin writing her novel.
 
As S.G.S. begins to write her novel, I begin to edit it.
 
I hold Emergency, my eighteenth poetry reading, at my house in Vancouver, immediately prior to moving to Nanaimo. There is no program and no introduction. I read thirty-one poems, six short of the original plan.
 
I edit the first of S.G.S.'s poems.
 
S.G.S. finishes writing—and I finish editing— her novel.
 
I read for the nineteenth time, at the WordStorm Metaphorically Speaking open mic event at White Rabbit, a café in the Old City Quarter in Nanaimo: "ceremony", "after frost", "inconvenience store", "found poem XXIII or Pentametric", and "openings"
 
I edit the last of S.G.S.'s poems.
 
I broadcast One Minute to Midnight, my twentieth poetry reading, over Zoom from my friend Edgar Lam's house in Vancouver. Edgar reads the introduction to the program. I read forty-three poems.
 
I interview for City of Nanaimo Poet Laureate.
 
I lose City of Nanaimo Poet Laureate to Kamal Parmar.
 
On the occasion of the twenty-fifth year of writing poetry, I hold Half Life, my twenty-first poetry reading at my house in Nanaimo, and also broadcast it over Zoom. Rod reads the introduction to the program over Zoom. I read forty poems.
 
I resolve that, (with the exception of my translations), starting from January 1, 2022, I will no longer use the articles a or the in my poetry, in order to simulate the order of the Other and to demonstrate that it, too, can be beautiful. I try it out in "Walk" and then (after another special case in the title of "Departurition or The Sundering"—perforce, a reference to "The Big Day"), my experiment begins in earnest.
 
My friend Dirk Plante introduces me to Linda Rogers and Rick Van Krugel. I feel an overbearing nostalgia for the best parts of academe that I left behind for the past seven years.
 
With the help of my quiblings Lys Glassford and Rebecca Burrows, I create the Queer Poetry Nanaimo group on Instagram.
 
With Rebecca's help, I hold By the Pricking of My Thumbs, the first queer poetry evening at my house in Nanaimo. Five friends attend and share their favourite poetic works.
 
I visit the Fielding Road exhibition at the Nanaimo Art Gallery for the first time. My imagination is inflamed by my engagement with the literary and visual works of the late Nanaimo poet Peter Culley and his unmediated interactions with the material world of Nanaimo and our mediated reception thereof, his locative writing, his proprioceptive motion through the landscapes of the city (reminiscent of Charles Olson's movements through the spaces of New England), the implied questions of Culley's objets trouvés (found in situ, not framed as objets d'art) placed in juxtaposition with the ekphrastic gestures of other artists responding to Culley's work as part of the same exhibition, and the notions of bedness and Platonic removes that haunted the entire affair as a result. The first thing I do upon leaving the gallery is locate Culley's home (across the road from Cavalotti Hall). The second thing I do is scout Fielding Road (across the highway, four minutes away from my house).
 
I create the Instagram account @kaurify.everything where I promise to "ruin" one famous poem each week by rewriting it in the popular and stilted style of Rupi Kaur. I write six pastiches—of Frost, Shelley, Magee, Robinson, Blake, and Shakespeare—and, thirty-four days later, having unwittingly performed a literary study of Kaur's politics and poetics, I terminate the project.
 
In tribute to Culley's poetic praxis, I go walkabout and explore the railroad tracks from Jingle Pot Road to Brooks landing and then walk to Departure Bay Road and finally back up to Country Club Centre. I take 450 photographs that underwrite a nascent poetic project.
 
Having observed Fielding Road only mediated by Culley's photography and videography (nominally the second, but possibly third, remove), and then mediated again by artists responding ekphrastically to Culley's work (nominally the third, but possibly the fourth remove), I begin to turn to what the Russians term наблюдение за наблюдающим—observation of the observer. I visit Fielding Road (the exhibition) a second time, taking my friend Nic with me and taking in his observations of the aforementioned (clearly, Plato hasn't counted on such a distance from reality). I am enthralled with Nic's comments on the exhibition and begin to buy up facsimile copies of Culley's out-of-print The Climax Forest from the gallery.
 
Nic and I visit the bisected Fielding Road from both of its ends and photograph all that haunts it. I stop asking how many levels of remove we operate on, for they all become relative and difficult to enumerate.
 
Having now observed Fielding Road, both in the wild (complete with the conspicuous presence of Culley's absence) and through every other possible filter, I visit the gallery for the third time and bring Rebecca to the exhibition and marvel at the incredibly generative function of observing mediated works of art through another's eyes. I buy up all the remaining copies of The Climax Forest.
 
On the last day of Fielding Road I visit the gallery for the fourth time and bring Nic and my friend Austin Shouli with me. I ask Nic to contrast his second visit to the highly mediated, curated space with his first visit, as well as our visit to Fielding Road (the road). I am once again enthralled while observing the exhibition for the last time through Nic and Austin's eye.
 
Feeling a newfound creative life-force, I recite "My Arborist" to Dirk while surrounded by trees (and tree stumps) in Hemer Park.
 
With Rebecca's help, I hold Do You Bite Your Thumb at Us, the second queer poetry evening at my house in Nanaimo. Five friends attend and share their favourite poetic works.
 
A lifelong thought process leads me to "an overwhelming question" which I answer with the realization that I have always been a queer poet. I begin to identify myself as such.
 
I hold La Vita Nuova, my twenty-second poetry reading at my house in Nanaimo, and also broadcast it over Zoom. Rebecca reads the introduction to the program, including "The Things He Does Remarkably Well," a heartfelt "rebuttal" to my "Things He Does Right". I read forty-one poems. This was my first private reading as an openly queer poet.
 
With Rebecca's help, I hold Moisten the Thumb, Finger the Page, the third queer poetry evening at my house in Nanaimo. Ten friends attend and share their favourite poetic works.
 
I read for the twenty-third time, at an open mic event at White Sails, a brewery in Downtown Nanaimo: "Ξέρω! Ξέρω! Ξέρω!", "Lines Upon Dissolution of Moto-Tech", "Portrait of Two Men Embracing Under Cover of Stone", "Ballad of Lovely Masturbator or After Sexton", "Dream of Fisherman's Husband", and "My Arborist".
 
While continuing to ponder my identity, I arrive at the conclusion that a passing sentiment (that in my adolescence I had construed as mild gender dysphoria) is, in actuality, an indication of being genderfluid. This revelation does not cause me to change my pronouns but enriches my existing identity further.
 
I hold Bottoms Down, Thumbs Up, the fourth queer poetry evening at my house in Nanaimo. Five friends attend and share their favourite poetic works.
 
I read for the twenty-fourth time, at an open mic event at White Sails: "said the learnèd philosopher", "Living Model of Fourth Bridge", "picking blackberries at the back of the property line", "I Can't Stand Ants", and two pieces from my secret poetic cycle. It is so distressingly loud at the venue that I vow never to read there again.
 
I read for the twenty-fifth time, at S.N.A.P.S., an open mic event at The Vault Cafe in Downtown Nanaimo: "Ξέρω! Ξέρω! Ξέρω!", "Portrait of Two Men Embracing Under Cover of Stone", "Ballad of Lovely Masturbator or After Sexton", "Dream of Fisherman's Husband", "Swift Tryst, Fleet Trick betwixt Tall Trees, All Pleased", and "My Arborist". Although the overall organization of the event seems to suggest that its primum mobile is filthy lucre (I'm rather amused by the fact that I had been duped to pay a cover charge to perform—lesson learned), the venue still somehow turns out to be an excellent place for poetic performance. After I present a retooled version of my November 22, 2022 open mic set list (received enthusiastically), I get to hear my friends Lys and Sara perform their work as well.
 
I hold Die Nacht ist nicht allein zum Schlafen da, the fifth queer poetry evening at my house in Nanaimo. Three friends attend (one on Zoom) and share their favourite poetic works.

Post Scriptum: Of Influences and Development

Twenty-seven years after beginning my poetic journey, it strikes me as curious that mine is a tale of not only a surfeit of fruitful collaborations (some omitted from this page due to their intimate nature) but also of a dearth of proper poetic mentorship that often, at best, consisted of empty promises and inaction and, at worst, of bad advice and worse behaviour. Perhaps this is why I have once written "i've spent the first two scores of years / with wolves  grown reticent and wild."

To this day, I can't name a single poetic (creative) mentor—it seems that it has all been a combination of reverse-engineering my idols' work by means of analysis and pastiche, as well as a never-ending construction of stylistic imitatio to justify at least the rudiments of one's poetic position. While there is, almost certainly, nothing wrong with this approach, it is a lonely sort of generative existence, during which one must confide in one's poetic peers, who have themselves penetrated the dense dermis of verse (even if they themselves have not made it their calling). In my life, such personae include my dear friends Rod Moody-Corbett and Greg Brown.

Still, despite the salient lacuna of poetic tutelage, I must acknowledge some of the most incredible literary mentors who have played personal, active, and invested roles in my development, who listened to my sense and nonsense, responded and corresponded, read my poems, and wrote references for me. These paragons of patience and founts of knowledge include Muriel Densford, Don Wood, Noel Currie, Laurie Ricou, Kieran Kealy, Lee Johnson, Stephen Guy-Bray, Victoria Lamont, Jay Dolmage, David Williams, Adrienne and Jon Kertzer, Nick Žekulin, Max Nemtsov—and a few others.

Those who know me today can attest that, as a result of my own cobbled-together praxis, I take any opportunity to act as an organizer or participant for a variety of poetry events—a collaborator, a mentor, a friend. Because such affordances were either once unavailable to me or were structured in such a way so as to preclude my participation, throwing open these doors is now of the utmost importance to me.