For over a month now, my father has sent me poems every day. They usually arrive late at night, as if it took him all day to choose what to send. They are by Pushkin, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, and others. The greats of Russian poetry.
I’ve been reading more Russian the last few years and poetry is a good access point. They are short, and, most of the ones I’ve found have meter and rhyme. That means that even if I don’t get all the references or know every word, I can catch the music of the language, and thus the gist of the poem.
For a couple weeks, I saved the poems my father sent in a folder within my email program after reading them. (I’m one of those inbox-zero people; can’t stand leaving even a single message unsorted or otherwise disposed of.) But putting the ever-expanding collection of poems in the folder wasn’t enough. So I pasted them all into a word file. Then I fixed all the different fonts they’d arrived in into a uniform 12-point Helvetica Neue.
Every day there is a new poem. I read and archived each. But it kept eating at me that I wasn’t responding or contributing adequately to my father’s efforts. Because, even though he had not written these words, the choices and order of selection was thematic and likely told a story. He’s trying to tell me something through these poems. I wrote him early on to say that he shouldn’t take the fact I don’t respond each day to mean I don’t read the poems or appreciate his sending them. He replied that he was glad he wasn’t just clogging my inbox.
I love reading them. They connect me to where I’m from and some of the turns of phrase are sublime. Many are about what it means to be an artist, others about loneliness or love. It makes me wonder how or why anyone would try to translate poetry; at best, what you end up with is good new poem, there’s no way of actually transposing such precise expressions from one language into another.
I’m many many moons away from attempting to write in Russian myself. I got a Cyrillic skin for my laptop keyboard and occasionally attempt short emails to my parents. But it’s a laborious, glacial process. I also printed out the word doc of my father’s daily poems and have started typing them out on my Russian typewriter onto graph paper. I don’t know how many poems I’ll do. There are over fifty already. I’ll probably add some illustrations eventually.
I can’t help that. Words without pictures——whatever the language——feel incomplete.