The poetic world that he created is not as great as it is bizarre. At first glance, his poetry seems conservative, self-isolated, book. But that only seems so. Strict and demanding form, the game of words, the colorful baroque of poems by Bohdan Rubchak is only a method of search, which in no way will allow putting the poet into the raw of dry scribes. Another thing is that for the average “mainland” poetry fan Rubchak’s works won’t be too easy to read. His searches are a great work with the word, therefore, the reader, who get used that texts “just pop into his mouth,” will have to wrack the brain. One has to listen, in order to hear; one has to look around in order to see the world of Bohdan Rubchak. However, the one who can get there will definitely be enriched. At least, that one will understand that the world is more than “behind the fence, and there, further, to the pastoral garden”.
The world was opened to Bohdan Rubchak quite early. The boy wasn’t even 10 years old when his parents brought him to Germany in 1943. In a while his father, a former co-operative worker, had died there, so Bohdan was left with his mother in the camp for displaced persons. Who knows how was it for a teenager to grow in one of the infamous “D. P.” camps, it is only known that even there Bogdan continued his education that he had begun in his hometown Kalush. In 1948, they moved to New Jersey with his mother. America will become the second homeland of Bohdan Rubchak.
The world is expanding, it opens more and more. Until 1952, the boy is living in New York, then he moved to Chicago. Here he graduated from the high school. He studied languages and comparative history of world literature at the universities of Roosevelt and Navy Pier.
The first book of the poet Bohdan Rubchak came into the world when he wasn’t even twenty-two years old. The collection of poems “Kaminnyi sad” (Stone Orchard) is entirely devoted to his mother, who while her son was studying, had to work all the time, in order to provide him with the future.
Later, Bohdan also finds a job to help his mother. Future he studies and works at the same time.
In 1958 Rubchak began to serve in the US military. He’d spent two years in Korea. In 1960, after returning from the service, he works on the second collection of poems – “Promenysta zrada” (Bright Betrayal).
In America at the beginning of the fifties, the movement which later became known as the New York Group of poets had started. It began with Bohdan Boychuk and Yuriy Tarnawsky. In 1955 Bohdan Rubchak and Zhenya Vasylkivska had joined the group, later on, to this list were added Emma Andievska, Vira Vovk, and Patricia Kylyna. The poets of the New York Group concentrated mainly on the aesthetic component of their works, avoiding the slogans and socio-political motives, which at that time were “almost everywhere” in Ukrainian “mainland” poetry. The group did not have a joint program, it didn’t publish any manifestos, because each participant had its own style, preferences, and purpose. Everyone did what he wanted, and the way he wanted.
In particular, Rubchak covered the whole notebooks with separate words and groups of words. He was captured by some kind of consonance, certain contrasts, he was in his search. Subsequently, he returned to those notebooks: “When you have both time and will, you begin to play with it. You’re playing until the context and form appear for it. I don’t remember the times when I simply sit down and say to myself: “Now I will write a sonnet”. So, I think that I have such formal searches intuitively “(from an interview given to Taras Pastukh for the website “Litaktsent”, 2008).
In 1963, he released his third collection – Divchyni bez kraïny (For a Girl without a Country)
In 1964 Bohdan Rubchak received an invitation from the University of Manitoba to give lectures on Slavic studies. Then he worked in New York at the Harper & Row Publishing House and later headed the Ukrainian editorial board of Radio Liberty in New York. In 1967 Rubchak published the fourth book, dedicated to his wife Mariana – “Osobysta Klio” (Personal Clio).
According to him, the work on doctoral thesis was long and hard. The title is fundamental and intriguing: “Theory of the metaphor”. Rubchak had defended his dissertation back in 1977; however, it still hasn’t been translated into Ukrainian yet.
“I would like to see a continuum between my poetry and my articles about poetry, although I am aware of the enormous differences between these two genres. In the first, I do applied work, and in another, I think about the “secrets of poetic art”. But they and the “secrets of poetry” are completely different things,” he will say it later in an interview.
Professor of Slavic and Ukrainian Studies at the University of Illinois Bohdan Rubchak collaborated with the magazine “Suchasnist” (Modernity), which at that time was published abroad. He was engaged in literary translation – from English, German, French. He wrote in the genre of haiku, did not stop his modern searches in the realm of classical versification.
As a literary scholar (perhaps one of the best in the twentieth century), he studied western European and Ukrainian modern poetry. He wrote more than one hundred essays and articles.
Even in his old ages, he said: “In front of the poetry’s mystery, I – already an old bull – am still staring like a calf at those marvelous gates.” One more thing: “Canons are changing; fashion is changing, but the internal value of the text remains and is perceived differently by all new generations.”
He died on September 23, 2018, at the New Jersey Hospital. Under his biography appeared a black stripe. But it doesn’t exhaust the biography. And biography – in any case! – does not exhaust Rubchak. You must read him when (and if) you want to bring into your world something new. When you want to make sure that the life’s not able to limit creativity. That the world behind the fence is much bigger than before it. That it mostly ignores all kinds of conditionalities such as time, body, or some sort of illness. Rubchak just needs to be read. Not to honor him, not out of respect, not for some kind of anniversary – just read, for your own pleasure. Just to make the world bigger.
By Sergii Osoka
Facts and data from open sources were used in this material