In-Depth Praise for Excavating the Sky 


"A promising new voice delivers memories from his Russian youth and reflections on global religion in this crisp book of poetry. Vladimir Nabokov was born in Russia, but he was raised in Europe and driven to the United States in 1940 as German troops advanced; it’s a fine irony of world literature that one of Russia’s greatest novelists spent most of his life in America. Perhaps the young poet Konstantin Kulakov senses some of the same pressures; Kulakov was born in Russia but educated in America, and his verse often engages the challenges and joys of his double origin; take, as one fine example, the “Song to Flying”: “In a neat English playground, near a worn brick sidewalk, / I mumble in mixed Russian, digging / pale hands into earth, burying sticks and rocks: / a time capsule to call mine in a far-off adulthood.” Today, the adult author is a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, so it’s unsurprising that his mature poetry often engages religious themes. However, this is not a collection of stale, devotional poetry from a green seminarian. Kulakov is clearly eager to grapple with his own faith—and with the faith of others. “If We Burn Them All Together” is a troubling, evocative discussion of Islam’s role in the world that ends on a utopic note: “above Qur’an and Bible, two different heavens / rise-up and conjoin: it is rivers of milk, streets / of gold, hairless companions, and pearly gates.” At other times, readers learn how crucial his poetry is to his spiritual calling: “In my room, / I punch in letters mixing words / to bring-out sparks. And it is you, Yahweh.” Such frank confessions are much preferable to his occasional dips into the self-conscious jargon of a graduate student, as in “Morton Peak”: “Bodies heavy, I say, ‘The real Real is too traumatic? / for any being to behold.’ ” However, most of the time he avoids such patter, instead writing honest, evocative verse about spirituality and the life of the émigré. A fine young poet digs deep." Kirkus Reviews

"Konstantin Kulakov's poems find the holy in the unsettling yoke of disparates:  in the Bible and Qur'an lying side by side;  in a mango glowing from within an aluminum can; in Harlem where "flowers of blood nailed Christ to the walls."  These are poems of displacement, as the poet wanders from D.C. to Moscow to Pakistan to Oxford to Georgia and beyond.  In South Carolina he learns "life is a mute, gentle oppression/lined with rails near the edges of peril." These perilous edges permeate his landscapes and define his journey as they do for anyone exiled from Eden.  These are brave, bold poems, excruciatingly beautiful as they lay bare our predicament and direct our gaze away from our narcissisms and toward what he labels "Reality." Kulakov's is a voice to be reckoned with, in his prophetic stance, in the power of his language, and in his linkage of poetry with the life of faith." Jill Peláez Baumgaertner, Poetry Editor, The Christian Century

"i admire ["Keats by Glenmont Metro"] for the ways it inhabits space. the poet’s meditative mind attaches a feeling or idea to three specific sites: the potential for harm haunts the public space of the street and its transit; desire draws us to the private sphere of the household; an awareness of mortality and a sense of obligation to the dead attends the cemetery. these sites are like a triad that forms a chord, and the sites’ associated ideas and feelings are like the overtones that linger after the keys are struck and the chord decays. i was moved by the quietly obsessive way this poem restricts itself to so few notes and picks them out one by one, inevitably building the same chord again and again, the meditative mind bound to the world by fear, desire, and mortal knowledge." Brian Teare, Pew Fellow in the Arts and author of Companion Grasses (Slate’s best poetry books of 2013)