Aug 21 2015

Poet Spotlight: Kristina Marie Darling on Mapping Heartbreak

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of over twenty collections of poetry and hybrid prose. Her writing has been described by literary critics as “haunting,” “mesmerizing,” and “complex.” She has been awarded with a number of fellowships and grants by both U.S. and overseas universities, institutes, and organizations. She is currently working toward both a Ph.D. in English Literature at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo and an M.F.A. in Poetry at New York University. Here, Kristina shares a bit about her latest collection of poetry, hybrid art forms, and the act of writing as catharsis.

Kristina Marie Darling

Your most recent book of poetry is Failure Lyric. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about.

Failure Lyric began as a series of erasures. I took a black marker to my four year correspondence with a male writer, who, out of respect for his work, will remain unnamed. What started out as an act of destruction became generative, since the hybrid prose pieces ultimately grew out of the erasures at the beginning and end of the book. Once I had erased every last email, note, and inscription, I started to write flash essays, which map my heartbreak and all of the unexpected places it brought me to: Saint Louis, Iowa, Burlington, and the now infamous Dallas/Fort Worth airport. So my initial attempts to destroy artifacts of the relationship became a documentary project, charting the crazy orbits that grief set me on.

The collection features mainly prose poems that unfold in a single story. Did you have a specific story you wanted to tell when you began writing? Or did the story evolve into being as you added individual poems together?

That’s a great question. I definitely discovered the story as I wrote. The book began as mere catharsis, an attempt to move past the end of the end of a relationship. With that said, I didn’t expect the artifacts of loss, and my own grief, to inspire me to write at all. I didn’t expect anything to come of the erasures except peace of mind maybe, or a good night’s sleep. Then I couldn’t stop writing. As the book began to take shape, the order was very close to the chronological order in which the poems were written. My grief became something concrete, a ledger of sorts, which will never be completely finished.

Some of your work has been described as hybrid prose. How would you define hybrid prose? Would the prose poems in Failure Lyric fall under this definition? How do you decide which form to use when you approach a new piece of poetry or prose?

While there are many different definitions of hybridity circulating within the literary community, I would define hybrid as a text that uses the resources of more than one genre. This can range from combinations of essay and poetry to hybrids of poetry and visual art, poetry and fiction, or even poetry and the dramatic arts. When deciding which form to use for a piece of poetry or prose, I usually consider the expectations the reader will bring to the text. Even more importantly, how can I undermine those readerly expectations? I see form as an opportunity to purposefully mislead the reader, offering them moments of beauty where they likely wouldn’t expect to find them.

Failure Lyric explores themes of loss, isolation, and miscommunication. Are these themes that have appeared in other work you’ve done? If not what are the sorts of themes or imagery you often find yourself returning to?

Absolutely! I see myself as a poet who works primarily within the tradition of the love lyric, so loss, isolation, and miscommunication are themes that seem unavoidable, I mean, if a love poem is to be honest. I’m interested in not only engaging the rich history of the love lyric, which includes canonical figures like Petrarch, and contemporary writers like Joanna Klink, but also expanding what is possible within it, allowing what once was a predominantly male literary heritage to encompass feminist critiques of form, genre, and the gender politics surrounding language.

You have published more than twenty books and chapbooks, what advice can you give other poets about putting together a collection?

The best advice I can give is to listen to your poems. Many writers start out with a preconceived idea of what their collection should or ought to be. For instance, I’ve heard many of my poet friends say that in order to win a contest, a poetry book should be 65 pages and contain three sections, organized by theme. This will do you no good if the structure doesn’t fit the work. As a writer working with hybrid and experimental forms, I’ve been surprised and delighted by how open-minded readers often are, and how open they are to writers who want to re-envision received ideas about how literary texts unfold.

What is the favorite thing you’ve written or published so far? Why?

Definitely X Marks the Dress: A Registry, my first collaboration with Carol Guess. I say this because working with someone whose writing I so admired pushed me to be my best. I also learned so much from Carol about how to structure a narrative, how different voices can work together within the same collection, and how to create layer upon layer within a manuscript. And it was fun to work on! The great thing about collaborations is that you never know what’s around the corner, so you’re constantly being surprised and delighted by what your collaborator sends you.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve been reading Saints of Hysteria, an anthology of collaborative poetry that covers over fifty years, as well as Melissa Kwansy’s prose poem collection, Pictograph. Additionally, I just finished Lindsey Drager’s The Sorrow Proper, which came to me as a review copy.  Who knew that a review copy could change my life?  Ms. Drager’s collection is literally the best novel I’ve read in years.

Name one poet no one knows but should.

Erin Bertram!  She has several chapbooks, including a few from Dancing Girl Press, and I’m just waiting for her book to come out so that I can place the first pre-order.

Do you feel community is important as a writer? How do you stay connected?

Most definitely!  I believe that all of poetry is conversation, so it’s difficult to have poetry without a sense of community.  For me, the best poems respond to, engage, and interrogate work by the writers that came before them, so poetry is definitely an exchange, a dialogue.  And this is the best part of writing, seeing others respond to, appropriate, and recast your work in ways that you had never imagined.

What can the world expect from you in the future?

I’m currently working on two very different collaborations.  The first one is a manuscript I’ve been working on with John Gallaher, a poet whose work I’ve always admired.  We started writing poems about landscape back in March, but it didn’t take long for many of the pieces to become ghost stories.  With that in mind, the project is tentatively titled GHOST / LANDSCAPE.

The second collaboration is a project that I’ve been working on with a visual artist, Kristin Giordano, called “The Ghosts of Birds.” For this manuscript, I’m writing poems in response to Kristin’s stunning photographs of the ghostly bones of tiny birds found on the Long Beach peninsula in Washington state.  Kristin and I met at Willapa Bay AiR, and artist residency in Oysterville, have been collaborating ever since.  I’m excited to see both of the projects unfold!

Aug 19 2015

Book Review: Rupetta by Nike Sulway

“History was an art form — the delicate, dangerous art of creating the past.”

Science fiction writers have long used visions of animatronic machines and robots to questions the nature of humanity and god and to explore what constitutes a soul. In this beautiful and strange alternate history, N.A. Sulway performs a similar exploration while also taking into consideration how history is shaped and how the creation of history through carefully selected “facts” or stories shapes a society.

Rupetta is an animatronic object, constructed in the 1600s by a young French woman out of brass gears and cogs and leather fittings to resemble a human being. She shares souls and consciousness with the women who wynd her. As Rupetta recounts her own story, in which she witnesses centuries, from her creation to the formation of a new society with her image at its center, she reveals the ways she has been loved, hated, and used by the women she is bound to, as well as the ways she herself has loved.

Alternating with her own story is Henri’s tale, a young woman living in the “present” day society formed out of the devotion to the Fourfold Rupettan Law — “Life is Death. The Earth is a Grave. The Body is a Machine for Dying. Knowledge is the Path to Imortality.” Henri longs to be a historian of the Penitent order and to give up her human heart for a mechanical one that would extend her life. In her researches on the Salt Lake Witches, she uncovers a hidden secret that could shake the stability of the current societal order.

This was a strange and wonderful read with beautiful language. I loved the varying relationships between each of these women, based on kindness, love, friendship, and trust, as well as pain, betrayal, and anger. At it’s core this is a love story interweaved with the histories that shape society and the intellectual rebellions that threaten to undo it.

The hardback edition is out of print and expensive to purchase, but I recommend picking up a digital copy.

Don’t Forget that I am running a giveaway for The Walls Around Us. Just comment on the post by August 31 to enter.

Aug 18 2015

Clinging to Rockface

“too scared of coming down,
too scared of going up,
too scared of rockface”
— from “Sugar” by Heather Nova

I spent the last week in Anchorage, Alaska, mostly visiting family, as well as spending a bit of time here and there going fishing and hiking. One of my favorite hikes near Anchorage is Flattop, a small (by Alaskan standards) mountain that is exactly as it’s name describes — flat on top. Every time I return to Anchorage, I try to fit in time to climb Flattop and last Tuesday, my mom, sister, and I took part in the hike together.

My sister gazes up at Flattop from the parking lot before the climb.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day in Anchorage when we set out for the hike. The air was cool, crisp, and fresh. My sister said that when she used to hike Flattop as a kid, she always felt like she had been whisked away to Ireland (a fair comparison.

The trail is steep at moments, with switchbacks and wood staircases that seemed to go on forever. We took it slow, breathing heavy and taking time to pause in order to look out and enjoy the scenery, which grew more and more impressive the higher we climbed.

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Aug 6 2015

New-to-me movies watched in July 2015

1. Ex Machina (2015)
2. American Mary (2012)
3. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
4. It Follows (2014)


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Aug 5 2015

THE WALLS AROUND US book review and giveaway

“We went wild that hot night. We howled, we raged, we screamed. We were girls — some fourteen and fifteen; some sixteen, seventeen — but when the locks came undone, the doors of our cells gaping open and no one to shove us back in, we made the noise of savage animals, of men.”

A few years ago now, I read and fell in love with Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls, an emotionally complicated sister-centered story with a touch of creepy and unsettling magical realism. It’s a story that still haunts me, sneaking from behind the shadows into the foreground of my mind. A book that I treasure in my soul and a level of achievement that I aspire to in my own writing.

Nova Ren’s latest novel, The Walls Around Us, has the same kind of haunting quality, and not just because it’s a ghost story. It’s a tale that lingers long after you’ve put it down.

Three girls are the center of this story — Amber is a young woman convicted of murder who has been locked in prison for years; Violet, a ballet dancer with a dark secret; and Orianna, a girl caught in a tide of misfortune who binds the other two together. Their stories weave together unveiling lies and secrets and the truth behind a murder.

Alternating between Amber and Violet’s points of view, the story unfolds with a feeling of inevitability, a sense that everything has happened before and cannot be stopped from happening again. Neither girl is nice or easy; instead they are both complicated and difficult, having made dangerous decisions that lead to catastrophes that define their lives. Where Nova Ren’s skill is clear is in how she manages to generate a feeling of fascination and sympathy for both of these girls. Violet in particular is an awful human being, and yet I found myself pitying her and how she has cut herself off from feeling for anyone else in the world and a part of me wanted her to make it to Julliard despite all the things she’s done.

Amber is particularly interesting to me in the way she erases herself into the group of her fellow prisoners, rarely using the singular “I” and more often using the plural “we”, as though their stories and her own story were the same, as though they are all one body of girls moving through the prison system. Her own personal story slowly unfolds but never quite condemns or absolves her of any crime. She is both guilty and a victim of society and circumstances, screwed over by the man her mother married and the system. A girl taken for granted, as many in the prison are.

Rich, gorgeous prose brings the world inside this prison for young women and the outside world (for this books seems to divide the world into two realms – inside and outside) to vivid, brutal reality. The supernatural aspects of this tale are subtle, weaved in among grounded real-world details enabling a level of plausibility. The effect — of not just the supernatural elements, but the entire story — is unsettling in all the right ways. Although the end is satisfying, this is a novel without easy answers, one to ponder after finishing, and then to go back and reread and ponder some more.

For a further exploration, here are some great interviews Nova Ren Suma has done regarding the book:



As it turns out, I ended up with an extra copy of The Walls Around Us and I want to share the love, hence a giveaway! I’ll send the copy of the book to someone in the U.S. or Canada.

How to Enter: Just leave a comment telling me about why you would like to read The Walls Around Us.

Signups end on August 31, at which point I will pick the winner randomly.