April 6, 2011
The Poetry Writing Process

Marina Blitshteyn is the author of the new poetry chapbook Russian for Lovers. In her earlier post, she wrote about the origin of Russian for Lovers. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

A confession about my writing/editing process: I have none. Which is to say, I wish I could say something about how regimented I’d been with this project, working a select number of days on select letters, sending drafts to my editor for proofing, receiving feedback, editing, sending them back. The truth is this was my first real long thing up for publication, so I’m surprised it’s even finished, let alone published.

As soon as I get an idea, I obsess over it, work on it religiously for a while, then come to a point that resembles a crossroads. Then I don’t know where to go. So ordinarily I put it aside until one fine day I figure it will come to me. Because Liz, my dear friend and editor at Argos Books, got invested in the project, I couldn’t put it aside for too long. I vowed to myself that I’d work on it last summer, but of course that didn’t happen.

There was only a brief glimmer of promise when I did a series of performances at the Infringement Festival in Buffalo, NY. My first performance had to do with conjuring up my memories of the old country, immigration and acculturation. My second performance was a brief Russian alphabet lesson, and the third component was a reading from the manuscript so far. I figured this would help me imagine the project and I was right to a certain extent. I worked on Russian for Lovers during this one-week stretch. But the progress was slow and not enough to make me feel good about the end product.

Then school happened again. Liz was a great motivating force, and I had no excuses anymore because I was given a deadline. I ended up rewriting the beginning letters as themes and threads started emerging towards the middle and end of the alphabet.

I’m still not satisfied with the last pieces but Liz gave me permission and appreciated the chapbook form for being a little more ragged. And naturally it doesn’t really feel ‘done’ but that’s a certain year-long frame of mind of entering into these questions and I like to think it marks the beginning of my engagement with longer projects and my own history.

Marina Blitshteyn is the author of Russian for Lovers. Come back all week to read her blog posts.

April 4, 2011
Gorgeous Chapbook from Argos Books

Marina Biltshteyn is the author of the new poetry chapbook Russian for Lovers. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council andMyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

It was my first semester in the MFA program and I was having a hard time, as can be the case. I was in the shower one day and it occurred to me I wanted to write an alphabet book to help my American lover learn Russian faster.

He’d been expressing interest in the language, picking up some words and phrases here and there, so I figured I could work out a little side-project from all the MFA work I was supposed to be doing. I planned on going letter by letter, making each poem revolve around the sound of that letter so he could learn it better.

I started composing A in the shower. I wanted to have the letter A be the only vowel in the piece. Needless to say, when I put it to the page it didn’t look as good as it sounded in my head while it was being shampooed. So I scrapped that idea and allowed other vowels in. A ended up having many different versions; I had to go back and re-do the beginning a bunch of times.

Russian for Lovers was originally only about love; it was supposed to be about a long-distance relationship and a communication divide. Soon enough I started thinking about larger ideas like the fact that we speak Russian in my house, my family’s journey to the States, my own relationship with my place of birth.

Interestingly, I’d never written poems about these questions before. And then “Love in Moldova” came out of me, and it sounded angry and hurt and I figured there was an emotional core to this project that extended beyond a personal relationship to a loved one and into more political and cultural concerns.

Marina Biltshteyn is the author of Russian for Lovers. Come back all week to read her blog posts.

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