Raisa Tolchinsky is a poet, editor, teacher, boxer, and herbalist. She is the founding editor of SIREN Magazine and the managing editor of The Alchemist’s Kitchen’s Wisdom Blog. Her poems, essays, stories, and interviews have appeared in Kenyon Review, Muzzle Magazine, December, Lumina Journal, and elsewhere. Currently, Raisa is a candidate for an M.F.A in poetry at the University of Virginia, where she is working on a manuscript of poetry about women fighters and mystic saints. She believes that the body is a deep source of wisdom. On Saturday, July 18th, Raisa will be teaching a workshop called “The Moon & Our Cycles of Creativity,” where she will explore techniques, strategies, and rituals to align with your most creative self, using four of the moon’s phases (new moon, waxing, full moon, and waning) as a map. You can sign up for the workshop here!
Have you always been drawn to poetry and writing? When did you first start expressing yourself through writing?
I first started writing poetry in third grade when I was extremely lucky to be placed in a class with a teacher who witnessed, read, and tended to my young poet self with heart and vision.
I remember the first time I wrote a poem, the world suddenly made sense— the page was a space where I could braid together what was seemingly separate: pain and joy, grief and celebration, anger and love. I realized poetry was a place where I could live and explore all the in-betweens.
There was a freedom in writing that I found myself returning to again and again. By freedom, I don’t mean that we as writers shouldn’t hold ourselves accountable to what we publish, but that the very act of journaling or writing can be a place of discovery and witness.
In this way, poetry has taught me how to live and love outside of a “linear” reality or sensibility — it comes from an ancient, quiet turning of the heart, even when poems are angry, bold, or wild.
When did you first make the connection that the moon cycles (and other cycles of nature) corresponded with our cycles of creativity? Did this connection happen organically or was it more literal, like a book?
I’m not the first and definitely not the last to look to the moon for guidance, so I want to take a moment and honor all the people and teachers that have come before me!
My family is Jewish, and in Judaism, the first day of the month in the Hebrew calendar is marked by the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh). For years, women have gathered in circles to discuss ritual and spirituality. In Kabbalah, there’s the idea that the day of the New Moon awakens the light of all the days to come.
I’m by no means an astrologer, but the moon affects us / all that’s around us so deeply. This was really driven home for me during the years I lived in Italy, when a wine expert named Tomasso told me he could taste the phase of the moon the grapes were harvested in each bottle of wine. Whether or not he was telling the truth, it reminded me how the moon is in EVERYTHING, especially our art. Thanks, Tomasso.
As creatives, I believe we can trust our moments of “inactivity” or rest— the moon is no less powerful when the sky is dark.
I know you work a lot! How do you find time to work and “get things done” and then have the creative space to be an open vessel for new ideas?
This is a beautiful question! I definitely rely on sacred time set aside for my poetry and also for ritual. I’m a rise-at-dawn kind of person, which helps me center and ground. Part of what we’ll talk about in the workshop is the difference between deep rest and active rest. We can always be an “open vessel,” I love that you use that term— I find my best poems come to me during activity, such as taking long walks, boxing, listening to music, or in the bath, etc.
I believe that setting aside even a half hour or two to work on a creative practice helps us arrive in relationships and spaces with more generosity, more openness, more conviction, & more strength in dismantling the oppressive systems (racism, capitalism, patriarchy) that rely on our participation, numbness, and ignorance.
Attentiveness to creativity awakens us to ourselves, and asks us to pay attention to the world around us / the systems of oppression we carry within.
It’s a moment where many creatives are asking ourselves and each other, “How can you still feel your poems matter or should be read?” To that I say: writing isn’t the same as publishing. The act of writing (especially by hand) can calm the nervous system, which creates more spaciousness around pain or discomfort– two emotions that occur often in absolutely necessary conversations about the exploitation & dehumanization of Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies. The field of poetry is not by any means exempt from that exploitation and theft.
I guess this is a long way to say, “getting things done” interests me less than how I arrive at the “doing.” Am I showing up with honesty, integrity, and care? I believe my poetry shows me the ways in which I am dishonest with myself, and illuminates the ways I can be better.
We each need to find our own rhythms and practices as creatives, but I’ve found that coming to the page in 2020 feels more important than ever.
Your top three books?
Oh this is a wonderful & impossible question!! My top three books *right now* are:
— The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief & Praise, by Martín Prechtel
— White Blood, by Kiki Petrosino
—The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
All of these books gave me the chills in different ways; all of them asked me to attend to a part of the world or myself that feels urgent.
I know you are also a big fan of plants! What for you are some plant and plant medicines that you use to enhance your creativity? (For example, THC, mugwort, skullcap)
I’m taking a break from alcohol so that I can go inward and further into pain or discomfort instead of stepping out of it. I’ve found sage & ginger to be really essential for that.
BONUS: Sun, Moon, and Rising sign?
Pisces, Gemini, Leo! I visualize this as a really chatty fish that loves the sun.
Thanks, Raisa! You can sign up for her workshop here!