When she was a child, Svetlana (“Lana”) Rakhman was always writing stories and poems. A passion for language stayed with her, and she later earned a bachelor’s degree in English. She knew the literary field was competitive but was determined to pursue a career in teaching or editing and to share her poetry with a wider audience. After enrolling in SPS’ MFA program in creative writing, those dreams began taking shape.
While a student, Rakhman served for two years as poetry editor of TriQuarterly, Northwestern University’s prestigious international literary journal founded in the 1960s. When TriQuarterly’s print edition was eliminated in 2010, the journal was reincarnated as an online, student-run publication. “I loved the editorial role. It gave me insights into how poets become established and access to a network of publishing professionals and writers,” Rakhman says. “It also gave me a legitimate place in the writing community. It was no longer ‘you’re just a grad student, why should I listen to you?’ And that benefit remains long after graduation.”
At the same time, Rakhman was using the MFA’s workshop format to polish her poems and move well beyond an amateur level. “There is a myth that writers, if they have talent, must be working alone,” she says. “That may work for a small number of people, but most need the feedback regardless of their talent. Consider the Beat poets — they talked with each other about their work and shared drafts. The SPS MFA program formalizes that process and has faculty — like Reginald Gibbons and others — who are both great poets and great teachers. The experience quiets the many ideas in your head into one unique voice. It gives you a sense of what you want to do, and what you can do.”
She began submitting poems to literary journals and has since been published in Poetry Quarterly, Salamander, Grey Sparrow Journal and many others. Rakhman, who moved to the United States from Kiev, Ukraine when she was five, uses her poems to explore issues related to language, identity, women and violence. “Many of my poems address both the possibility and impossibility of language, and broader questions about communication and control through language,” she explains.
Rakhman earned her MFA in 2011. She is continuing to develop her poetry portfolio and has landed part-time teaching positions at several local colleges.