Judith Rypma has had a love affair with Russia that has spanned most of her life. In 23 trips, the master faculty specialist in English at Western Michigan University has observed changes from the former Soviet Union to the Russia of today. Many of her observations have found their way into Rypma’s poetry. Her newest collection is Worshipping at Lenin’s Mausoleum (Future Cycle Press, 2016).
“I’m planning my 24th trip this year,” Rypma says. “My background is Dutch but Russia is the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen.”
Drawn to the architecture, the people, the landscape, the cuisine, and the culture, Rypma says she's observed the changes in Russia with amazement. While the Soviet years were gray and barren, she was struck by how quickly buildings were renovated once the Soviet regime crumbled in the early 1990's. Rypma dates her fascination with Russia to the time she read a biography of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra when she was in high school.
Rypma is the author of half-a-dozen chapbooks, including The Amber Room. In her latest collection, Rypma recounts the experience of hiding from imagined Soviet bombs during an elementary school drill. It also describes dealing with countless tourist restrictions at a time when cameras were considered tools of espionage. Rypma explores Joseph Stalin’s bunker, and views Vladimir Lenin’s embalmed corpse, preserved in his mausoleum within the Kremlin. Rypma remembers standing in long lines at stores. That was during the years when people in Russia joined lines simply because it meant that something, no one knew what, was suddenly available on otherwise empty store shelves. She also introduces her readers to the mysterious Russian witch, Baba Yaga, and offers glimpses of everyday Russian culture, then and now.
Besides teaching, Rypma has also been one of the organizers of Kalamazoo’s annual Russian Festival. She also teaches Russian literature in translation.
Rypma will read her poems at Kazoo Books, 2413 Parkview Avenue in Kalamazoo, on Saturday, April 1, at 1 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
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