writing X Marks the Dress with Carol Guess
When Carol and I set out to write X Marks the Dress, we shared a similar sense of uneasiness with the various marriage rituals that pervade our culture: the white dress, the registry, even the cake. Part of what made collaborating with Carol so interesting was that our critiques of marriage as an institution shared some of the same concerns, but came from very different perspectives. Carol has very articulately described the assimilationist mentality of many gay rights activists, and I agree that it's reductive to simply assume that the desired outcome for the LGBT community is sameness, as opposed to valuing diversity. But my critique of marriage came from a much different place.
As a young female writer growing up in Missouri, marriage was always a tremendous source of pressure. To this day, whenever I go to family functions, I endure the same questions: Where's my husband? Where are my children? At my age, how could I not have them? As a young person, I always assumed that my friends and family were right, that marriage was the end goal, the core of any woman's identity. With that said, completing a master's degree in cultural studies changed my life and my perspective on marriage. Studying women's history showed me how historically sedimented the institution of marriage really is. We see vestiges of a complex and troubled history paraded before us, but most of us aren't conscious of this at all. For example, when the bride is given away by her father, this is really a remnant of the old legal system. Women were considered children, whose guardianship was passed from father to husband. As brides are still paraded down the aisle, cultural memory continues to manifest in the strangest ways. These vestiges of history, as troubled and ethically fraught as they are, are even embodied by objects that are associated with weddings and registries.
I started to look at the collaboration, or my part in it at least, as an opportunity to bring these forgotten foundations of marriage as an institution, these vestiges of history, to the forefront. We can't change what's buried, or what we're not conscious of. For me, X Marks the Dress became an exercise in consciousness raising. I loved collaborating with Carol because, even as I developed my critique of marriage as a cultural institution, I was forced to confront ethical questions that weren't part of my lived experience, but were still pressing, important, and incredibly interesting. I believe collaboration made me a better poet, but also a more open-minded, articulate, and invested feminist.
I'm also happy to answer questions about my aesthetic choices. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd welcome your comments and questions.
Kristina Marie Darling is the author of thirteen books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and (with Carol Guess) X Marks the Dress: A Registry (Gold Wake Press, 2013). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, 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 is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Poetics at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo.