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!