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About the Work: Levitan by Marina Kraiskaya

In our “About the Work” series, Olga Mexina and Tom Sokolowski ask recent contributors for insight into their writing or for current sources of inspiration. Read Marina Kraiskaya's work in SER Vol. 42.1.


I love 19th-century “lyrical” landscape paintings that were created to at once realistically represent nature and to be symbolic, holding space for artist and observer alike to inosculate emotion. This is so much of what poetry does. Levitan began as one of my many searches for solace and companionship in the canon. 


Reading Isaac Levitan’s biography, it incensed me that this great, perceptive man (now a household name as a quintessential Russian painter) was mocked and exiled from Moscow, along with many others, for being Jewish. The painter himself, for me, is also intertwined with the folk mythos inseparable from those wild spaces.

I looked for the pain of Levitan’s otherness, his depression, the chronic illness that would lead to his premature death—and found it—in wind, shade, muted light, the coming of a winter season. Then, I was stuck by the sweet brightness of the mountains of Spring in Italy, 1890—where did that come from? 

Like paintings do, the images I laid down into lines formed a path and began to speak for themselves, shifting into the faceless plurality that Levitan sometimes landed on, whether in distant, lonely human bodies, flurries of snow, boughs of leaves, or stalks of grass. My final lines evoke the 1883 painting Boulevard in Evening—a singular way of depicting a slice of city. The figures are outcasts of place and time. Their route is cold and dark. But little lanterns—standout among his untouched landscapes—glow along the way.


MARINA KRAISKAYA is a Ukrainian-American writer and editor of the journal Bicoastal Review. She recently won the Markham Prize for Poetry and has been nominated for the Pushcart and Best New Poets. Find her poetry and nonfiction in Poetry International, Mississippi Review, The L.A. Review, Zone 3, The Shore, EcoTheo, Deep Wild, Leavings, Petrichor, Pollux, Crosswinds, and other journals. She lives by the sea in San Diego with her two cats. Visit to get in touch.


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