Modern poet D. Rudoy shares his memories of the year 2006 when his previously unstoppable poetic streak came to a screeching halt due to linguistic barriers and educational challenges faced at an international boarding school in the UK.
D. Rudoy’s 2006 Poetry Drought
As far as poetry is concerned, the year 2006 was one of the hardest in my life. Put simply, I did not write for the whole year. This was a sharp contract to 2005 which yielded 28 poems and a narrative poem of 104 pages. Such was the height conquered before the splendid ascending trajectory went to hell.
What led to this creative disaster was Atlantic College; or, rather, the cultural limitations of my upbringing. Unlike the great poets of the past, most of whom were fluent in several languages, I could not boast such knowledge prior to the very 2005 when I left Russia to study in Great Britain. My destination was an unusual Welsh boarding school boasting representatives of over 70 different nationalities. Naturally, despite a large number of Spanish and Norwegian speakers, English was the preferred language of communication, and my imperfect grasp of the idiom required spending extraordinary amounts of time and effort on changing the unsatisfactory status quo. And so the hard work began.
Consequently, there was no place even for love poetry among digging dictionaries as my life turned into a struggle with my own linguistic shortcomings. Every once in a while a new sequence of stanzas would enter my head, but none of those promising moments of inspiration resulted in an accomplished poem: none but one, which crowned the last night of the first semester. That was December 2005, and afterward came the worst poetic drought I have ever experienced.
The Limiting Russian
It was the desire to bring my English up to the level of my Russian that played to my disadvantage. Unwilling to accept anything but true mastery, I went to the extremes of learning, memorizing dozens of new words each day and perusing every text that came by, including works of brilliant journalism from The Times. My reading in English was so slow that sometimes it took over five minutes to get through an average page of prose; and when it came to poetry, the speed fell still. It was as if an invisible barrier grew in the air before my eyes and the words as even the common ones among them demanded an extra second before revealing their meaning. I used to say that seeing words in Russian was like seeing old friends, and it was true: the difference between how familiar they appeared and how foreign English remained was quite striking.
As days went by, my poetic touch began growing rusty, and even recitations of Russian poems performed during so-called cultural nights (none of which required a goodnight poem) could not stop the deterioration. Not that I was losing creative intuition: had I forced myself to work on the poems unfinished from the earlier times, I would have most certainly carried the job through. The problem lay deeper: I began losing interest in poetry per se. It was painfully obvious how little recognition poets were getting in the world, and how inept the world was at telling great poems from worthless ones. And the idea to abandon the rhyme and the rhythm in favor of freestyle that defined the new canon of English poetry was inadmissible and demotivating.
The SATs’ Beneficial Impact on Poetry
In the second half of 2006, my literary troubles were both exacerbated and assuaged by studying for the SAT exams, a prerequisite for admission into a respectable American university (my main goal at the time). The dichotomy is easy to understand: on the one hand, the assignment left even less time for anything unrelated to studies; on the other hand, one of the SAT II subject tests was on literature, with poetry making up roughly one-half of the exam. Barraged with countless excerpts of prose, verses, and drama, my mind grew more accustomed to reading English texts, and then a most amazing thing occurred: I began composing rhyming poetry in English.
The grammatical quality of those poems was wanting, but the impulse allowed me to shake some of the rust off my creative wings as I recalled the habits of my best self. In addition, I was translating poetry from Russian into English as part of my academic work. What fueled the feather’s flight further was a series of unrequited loves that hit me unapologetically, forcing me to strive for the highest ideals imaginable, all of which were also hardly unattainable. At the end of 2006, I believed I was about to find true happiness, but as cold reality proved my hopes wrong even writing could not reverse the morose: my spirit sank, composing another poem was among the last things on my weary mind, and, given the depth of the emotional collapse, no quick recovery was feasible.
by D. Rudoy