Kristina Marie Darling is the author of twenty books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and Scorched Altar: Selected Poems and Stories 2007-2014 (BlazeVOX Books, 2014). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She was recently selected as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome.
SL: Reading The Sun and the Moon is a bit like dreaming to a beautiful and haunting soundtrack. The book makes use of incantation, repetition, iteration and reiteration to create a mysterious and ceremonial solemnity. And then there’s the celestial bodies which inhabit the narrative, not to mention the astronomical clocks looming over everything. Can you talk about the etymology of this book, and how it might relate to astronomy, dreams, music, or the supernatural?
KMD: That’s a great question. I’m very interested in relationships that are haunted: by the past, by landscapes, and by one’s own imagination. The Sun & the Moon is essentially a love story, one that’s haunted by celestial bodies. The book takes the astronomical clock as its central metaphor, depicting astral bodies that are forever orbiting one another, and forever distant from one another. Their union is haunted by a sky filled with debris and dead stars, the remnants of what once was a burst of light.
In its own strange way, the book is very autobiographical. I believe that poetry can be autobiographical, and deeply personal, yet still imaginative, unruly, and strange. For me, creating an imaginary world like the one found in The Sun & the Moon is almost more personal than writing down what actually “happened,” since the reader sees and experiences what (for me) was the emotional truth. After all, there is no objective truth to be had, not even for scientists.
SL: I very much agree – the notion of the “personal” is so much roomier than that of the “confessional.” I’m fascinated by the poems from The Other City, which I am pleased to be publishing in a future issue of Posit. They seem to address an ‘other’ version of what might be considered ‘ordinary’ reality: weddings, elementary school, daily civic life, etc. I also love the prose poems which you recently published in The Tupelo Quarterly, from The Arctic Circle. Can you tell us a bit about those collections, and when and where we might get the chance to read them?
KMD: Thank you for the kind words about my new poems! The Other City is still a work in progress. The poems are a bit different from my previous work, since they use sound to forge connections between ideas and images within the text, and essentially to create narrative continuity. I think of them as an engagement with Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, as well as the work of more contemporary writers: Hanna Andrews, Thalia Field, and Inger Christensen. A couple of the poems are forthcoming in Laurel Review, and I’m thrilled to have several pieces in Posit. I hope to have the manuscript ready to send out by the end of the year.
And The Arctic Circle was just released by BlazeVOX Books. In this collection, you’ll find a newly minted wife, the ghost of another wife, and a man whose true love was found frozen inside his house. I hope you’ll check it out! It’s perfect for Halloween, after all.
SL: I will, absolutely! Speaking of ghosts, a distinctive feature of your poetry is the integration of sentimental iconography with intimations of destruction. Darkness and light seem interdependent, and bridal imagery, fire, and ice appear repeatedly. Can you talk about what informs your poetic vision, and the thematic and/or formal continuity between your works?
KMD: I’ve always been intrigued by representations of romantic love, particularly the ways they often blur into cliché. Because certain types of images (bouquets, lockets, love notes) appear so frequently in very bad poetry, we stop seeing just how odd, how disconcerting they are. I love taking those same images, that same iconography, and making the reader see how strange it all is. For me, poetry is also an archival practice, an effort to excavate strange, disconcerting, or otherwise otherworldly material culture from a buried past.
SL: All of the works we’ve discussed are written in different configurations of prose. What draws you to prose poetics? Does it present you with any limitations, and do you ever write lineated verse?
KMD: I love prose poetry because if the reader sees a paragraph, they immediately have ideas about what the text will be like. These readerly expectations are material, which I can use to surprise them. For me, there’s nothing better than working against the reader’s expectations of what’s possible within a text, and making them question their ideas about poetry, prose, and everything in between. So much of the time, we impose limitations on a text based on its appearance, its form, before we’ve even started reading. I think of prose poetry as an opportunity to foster more open minded reading practices, to show the reader that anything is possible within a literary text.
SL: Can you tell us a bit about your astounding productivity?
KMD: When I start writing a book, it literally takes over my life. I can’t rest until the project is completed. I think this is mostly because I work in longer projects, with each book orbiting around a different idea or stylistic preoccupation. This makes it easier to fall into a particular project, since there’s almost always a little white thread I can follow through the dark corridors and endless staircases. If I worked on the level of the individual poem, though, I’d probably be halfway through writing my first book. The idea of starting over with each poem frightens me, maybe even more than the unruly sky in my newest collection.
SL: That is very interesting. It’s hard to imagine any creative process frightening you! In addition to your daunting creative output, I understand that you are working on your PhD. Can you tell us about your scholarship?
KMD: I’m so glad you asked about my scholarship! I’m working on a dissertation that examines representations of philosophical discourses in modernist women’s writing. I’m particularly interested in the ways that these female writers use form and technique to comment on, question, and revise arguments presented by male philosophers. It’s fascinating to see these women reclaiming agency over a predominantly male discourse. This scholarly work has really come to influence my teaching, as I frequently tell my students that the smallest decisions within a poem (a line break, a bit of alliteration, etc.) can make an ambitious philosophical claim. What’s more, this can be done without presenting the argument in the content of the work itself. The project engages the work of Marianne Moore, Nancy Cunard, H.D., Lorine Niedecker, Gertrude Stein, and Mina Loy, as well as philosophical writings by Freud, William James, Karl Marx, and Henri Bergson.
SL: That sounds exciting, and obviously relevant to your own literary creations. How much does your scholarship affect your poetry? How disparate are the mindsets you access to write in the two modes?
KMD: For me, poetry is a scholarly form of writing. I think every poem as an act of deconstruction, a response to literary works that came before one’s own. Marianne Moore coined the term “conversity” to describe poetry as a conversation — with tradition, with other poets, and with other ways of being in the world. I think there’s definitely something right about her worldview. Poetry offers the opportunity to not only comment on literary tradition, but to simultaneously inhabit and revise it.
SL: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and process!
Susan Lewis lives in New York City and edits Posit (www.positjournal.com). Her most recent books are This Visit (BlazeVOX [books], 2015), How to Be Another (Červená Barva Press, 2014), and State of the Union (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2014). Her work is forthcoming or has recently appeared in such places as The Awl, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Dusie, EOAGH, Gargoyle, Otoliths, Ping Pong, Propeller, Raritan, Seneca Review, and Verse. More at www.susanlewis.net.