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Q&A with

 Marina Kraiskaya

Interviewed by Olivia Rose

Marina Kraiskaya  is a Ukrainian-American writer and editor of the journal Bicoastal Review. She has been nominated for the Pushcart and Best New Poets. Find her poetry and nonfiction in Poetry International, Southeast Review, The Los Angeles Review, Zone 3, The Shore, EcoTheo, Deep Wild, Leavings, Petrichor, Pollux, and other journals. She lives by the sea in San Diego with her two cats. Visit to get in touch.

Q: “Sea Rituals” is a poem as committed to language as it is to ecology and the natural world. Perhaps more accurately, the language in the poem—“[h]ide and hot marrow,” “paste strips a better cast than casein,” “[e]ucalyptus coins silver,” “slough my lemon-peel membranes”—is its ecology. Do you consider yourself an ecopoet? How do you view the relationship between language and the natural—or tactile—world?

A: Thank you so much for your kind words and attention to my poem. I’d be honored to be called

an ecopoet and strive to follow in the long “poetry of place” tradition of other California poets,

particularly of the last 60 years. This state has enough natural beauty and history to write about for a lifetime.

Ecopoetry is often about observing environment (including the urban) from an interconnected

social standpoint, moving the human away from primacy yet acknowledging or critiquing our

influence. It can inspire situating a poem’s speaker more mindfully in the public, or the global, and less from a place of ego. But it doesn’t have to be so grand. I live by the sea, and I grow a eucalyptus plant; I also fight the rust caused by the salt air and the oil that is so hard to clean. There’s poetry in observing slow states of change and offering up the patterns of repetitive—one might say ritualistic—semi-transparencies. What is strong in the delicate?

To your question about language—there’s also poetry in the reporting of facts and idiosyncrasies.

On a basic level, it makes me happy to share what I think is fascinating from an afternoon’s dive into the language of conservation, winemaking, folklore, or anything. I love to read about scientific processes even when I don’t understand them, and translate out the metaphors I see there. “Tactile”comes in, for example, at the difference between a hidden, ancient process of organic chemistry in art restoration (“pieces soaking overnight to froth/then brushed”) and the modern everyday (“I leave a film of serum on my face”—a line that, to me, holds behind it the entirety of the beauty industry’s influence on me). All poetry, after all, is political. But I hope that all the water in the poem comes through in a felt sense.

I wrote this poem after reading “Fog and Smoke” by Katie Peterson—also California ecopoetry

with water, webs, and deer—so my mind was on the liminal, the translucent, the barely-there; how ghosts can become seas or stand for collectives. Like spiderwebs or glue, things that overlay and lack saturation; connective fibers in the spaces between our rushing that are always present at birth and death.

Q: Juliana Spahr’s commentary on “Sea Rituals” emphasizes the poem’s momentum toward liminality—a momentum that, necessarily, might be as reflexive as it is propulsive. In many ways, the unifying force of this poem is its tactilely consistent images—“film of serum,” “clear-coat,” “silky birth,” “drifting veil.” How did this poem originate for you? With language, or image, or neither? Did you make any significant adjustments during your revision process?

I totally loved that Juliana Spahr mentioned the word “magic” and that she said this: “I cannot

decide if what the poem wants to tell is a horror or something so beautiful that it is difficult to

recognize it, but I am open to its leaps, its interrogations.” Because, really, aren’t things in nature

horrifying and alien, and beautiful and precious? Maybe there’s no use being on one side. I’m just a representative of the species, uncovering, uncovering.

The first images in the poem originated in part from an identification with something that is

taken—behind the scenes—as a sort of abduction and manufacturing, but into usefulness. Via the

machine of culture. I like to feel useful, and I like to note useful things. I also enjoy irony. Rather

than being about artmaking, a lot of the poem (hopefully) invokes the bloody processes humans go through to make something beautiful and lasting, but that we don’t want to linger on—like we don’t linger on all animal behaviors. But there is no more space left for us to turn away from what we wish not to see in nature. For all of our creativity and ingenuity, we can no longer ignore the way we grind up creatures and earth and turn them into things.

I did workshop this poem, moving stanzas around and changing verbs and adjectives toward a more interesting or suggestive precision. The “you” and “I” were there from the start. The interpersonal is a vehicle.


Q: We poets care deeply about form: form can be a vessel for and fundamental component of a poem’s meaning. Was using couplets—along with bookending monostiches—a difficult decision in your writing and/or revision process? How do you think the poem’s form speaks to its meditation on films, liminality, lack of clarity?

This poem began as a challenge in form, and that ended up being so much more satisfying and

freeing than I expected. It felt like taking the reins. It does constrain you into not being able to dig a little deeper into an image here and there, but that can be its own blessing, because you move on to what else is both new and relevant. Often, the more expansive a topic, the better form can contain and complement it (though maybe not for concrete poetry). I’m not sure if I’ve seen these exact rules/dimensions to a form before, so if I’ve invented it, then I’ll give it a name.


Marina Kraiskaya is a Ukrainian-American writer and editor of the journal Bicoastal Review. She recently placed second in the Joy Bale Boone Prize and was a finalist in the Mississippi

Review and Driftwood poetry prizes. Find her in Poetry International, The L.A. Review, Southeast Review, Zone 3, The Shore, EcoTheo, Deep Wild, Leavings, and more.


Juliana Spahr: "Poetry has the potential to transport us into the in-between and the overlapping. This is how I read "Sea Rituals." The poem opens with a command—"consider what interrogates itself." And then proceeds to do just that. The "I" and the "you" in this poem move between the sea and land, the inside and the outside, the skin and the tendon. At one moment this might be a poem about art making: "our illuminated art." At another, it might be a poem about magic making: "the omens build." At another, it might be a poem about relationships: "we wade, despite these signs, toward impact." And when it isn't complicating those spaces into the liminal, other things happen: a doe and a fawn, a jellyfish with 24 eyes. I cannot decide if what the poem wants to tell is a horror or something so beautiful that it is difficult to recognize it, but I am open to its leaps, its interrogations. And while it begins with a command, it ends with a promise"I'll pull you through the ocean to clarity." A promise I am not sure this poem can keep. Is not the ocean a place of opacity more than clarity? Just like a poem, like life, just like this specific poem too."

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