An Interview with Kristina Marie Darling
by Genevieve Jencson
Kristina Marie Darling is the author of nearly twenty collections of poetry and hybrid prose, which include VOW, PETRARCHAN, and SCORCHED ALTAR: SELECTED POEMS AND STORIES, 2007-2014, forthcoming from BlazeVOX Books. Her words been honored with fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, the Hambidge Center for the Arts and Sciences, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Ragdale Foundation. Kristina is also the recipient of international fellowships including the Hawthornden Castle Retreat for Writers (Scotland), the B.A.U. Institute (Italy), and Le Moulin à Nef (France), as well as artist grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She was recently selected as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome. Her first book, NIGHT SONGS, was recently reissued in a new edition by Gold Wake Press.
NIGHT SONGS echoes. It stayed with me long after I finished reading, the words reverberating in the spaces between them. I had the chance to interview Kristina Darling about how she created this cavernous effect, the role of music in her writing, erasure, and what she’s up to next.
After reading “Night Songs” I was left with this gorgeous sense of cavernousness. I could hear the book echoing and reverberating in the vast hollow space it created. To me, the book is focused on the hollow spaces where breath and sound move, more so than the music itself. I experienced this on a minute level—“hollow boned wings,” “crystal decanter,” the “porous moon” and even the body of the cello. So many of the images are hollow, penetrable. These hollow spaces are pregnant with music, or the possibility of music. Was this a conscious decision? How do you see the idea of hollow space working in this book?
I love your reading of the images in the book. I intended the hollow spaces as a metaphor for the style of the poems themselves. Just as silence, pauses, and open spaces allow music to reverberate, the absence of sound is what allows us to really take in poetry. The book is filled with white spaces, silence, and erasure, and I hope that the cavernous imagery that you describe calls attention to these stylistic choices.
The language of music adds texture to “Night Songs.” Are you a musician yourself, or did you have to research musical terminology to achieve this effect? I would guess that you are a musician because these poems live so comfortably in a musical realm.
That's a great question. I'm actually a failed musician. I tried playing violin, cello, and piano, and discovered that I was just awful at all three of these instruments. Although the musical terminology, the lives of composers, and the intricate workings of an orchestra seemed fascinating, I didn't have a gift for music at all. I turned to poetry because it's also a form of music, but one that requires a vastly different skill set. I no longer needed good hand eye coordination, or quick reflexes. What's more, my love of reading could be put to good use. One thing that's especially compelling to me about poetry as an art form is the way that sound can create vast, and often striking, emotional landscapes. In this sense, my practice is still similar to that of a cellist, violinist, or pianist.
I love the canaries. The dead canaries covering the floor is such a haunting image. How did you come up with this idea? Are they symbolic to you?
Thank you for your kind words about the collection. I'm very interested in birds as poetic image, because they are so rich in metaphorical connotations. In some cultures, birds symbolize the soul or the spirit, in others, they represent escape. When writing poems, I love choosing images that conjure many different associations for the reader. That way, the reader is called upon to assume a more active role, to sort through the many possibilities for interpretation and choose what is meaningful to them. For me, birds symbolize the delicate nature of the human spirit. A bird's wings are hollow, their feathers fragile. It doesn't take much to injure them, nor does it take much for a bird to alight.
I’m really taken with this hollow space idea. Erasure poems find the magic in negative space. Can you talk a little bit about the experience of composing (or decomposing) an erasure poem?
Many of the erasures in NIGHT SONGS are poems that I've excavated from Victorian guides to music appreciation. I'm very interested in thinking of erasure as a kind of archeology, an attempt to unearth a text that's been buried by other language. When working on the appendices in Night Songs, I was hoping to pare away the material that's specific to classical music, instead creating statements about artistic practice that apply to all creative disciplines. So erasure became a search for insight, an attempt to universalize the very particular.
How did you come by the Victorian texts you used for the erasures?
There is so much public domain material that's freely available to poets. It's really incredible. I went online, and poked around until I found something that spoke to me. When working with erasures, it's crucial to choose the right source text. All too often, I see poets trying to work with language or material that they're not excited about, and that's just not productive. If you're interested in erasure, I'd definitely suggest researching, investigating, and reading until you find a book you're excited to engage with.
Who are some of your favorite poets? What are you reading right now?
I recently read Claire Donato's Burial, which is available from Tarpaulin Sky Press. I just loved it... To see such a dark narrative unfold in a tightly restrained prose style was fascinating. I love books in which the form, style, and technique complicate what's being said. Joanna Ruocco, Brian Teare, David Wolach, Kerry James Evans, and Rebecca Hazelton Stafford are also favorites. Stafford's book-length engagement with Emily Dickinson's work, Fair Copy, is incredible. I hope you'll check it out!
Was this book influenced by any poets in particular, or was the music the primary inspiration?
In addition to the more contemporary influences I mentioned, I see the poems as being in conversation with the great prose poets of the French tradition: Baudelaire, Mallarme, and so on. I'm very interested in bringing these canonical poets into a more contemporary literary landscape, inhabiting tradition while also revising and modernizing it. After all, it's impossible to enter tradition if one doesn't engage with it.
What’s next? Can you share a little bit about any new projects your excited about?
I'm currently working on three very different projects, all of which I'm very excited about. The first is a collaboration with visual artist, photographer, and costumer Max Avi Kaplan. He's taken a series of beautiful and striking photographs of a woman's hands. I'm writing poems in response to his work. We're hoping to publish the collaboration as a book, with poems and photographs side by side. Additionally, I'm working on a novel about a woman who's in love, but can't speak. It's tentatively titled Frances the Mute / The Bright Continent (A Diptych). Lastly, I'm hard at work on a series of prose poems about failure. I'm excited to see these projects unfold.
Thank you for the great questions!
Thank you Kristina for the opportunity to peer under the surface of NIGHTS SONGS. It’s a beautiful book. I’m so excited about your upcoming projects!
Genevieve Jencson has a shiny new MFA from Cleveland State and the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program (NEOMFA). Her poems have appeared in H_NG M_N and Alimenturm: The Literature of Food. She is also programming coordinator for a senior living community and writes freelance articles about activities for seniors. Genevieve lives in Cleveland, Ohio.