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