The Poetry Writing Process

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Marina Blitshteyn is the author of the new poetry chapbook Russian for Lovers. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

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.

Posted on April 6, 2011

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