Kristina Marie Darling: Poet Interview

Confession: I don’t really keep records on Poetic Asides, but I’m pretty sure Kristina Marie Darling has the record for most poet interviews in PA history.

Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling

If this is your first time hearing her name, Kristina Marie Darling is the author of over 20 books, which include Vow, Petrarchan, and Scorched Altar, all available from BlazeVOX Books.  Her writing has been recognized with fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, 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.

Visit her online at http://kristinamariedarling.com.

It’s been fun watching her writing evolve over the years, and in Darling’s collection Scorched Altar: Selected Poems & Stories 2007-2014, it’s now possible to get a sampling of her writing from 12 different sources.

Here are a few of the pieces you will find:

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Click to continue.

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What are you currently up to?

I’m getting ready to leave for a residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and couldn’t be more excited. I’ll spend my time there working on a new collection of erasure poems, which examines the egregious amount of gender violence in Shakespeare’s tragedies. The fragmented, elliptical poems ask reader to consider whether the literature we’ve inherited has normalized gender violence, since plays like Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello are so present within the public imagination.

Part critique, part excavation, the poems are intended to redirect the focus of scholarly and readerly attention. It is when we become conscious of underlying beliefs and assumptions in culture, and their roots, that change emerges as a real possibility.

scorched_altar_selected_poems_stories_kristina_marie_darlingScorched Altar is a collection of selected poems and stories published by BlazeVOX [books]. How did this collection come about?

That’s a great question. I initially contacted Geoffrey Gatza, the fabulous editor in charge of the press, to inquire about the possibility of a Selected Poems.

It turns out that Geoffrey had the same idea himself, and I simply e-mailed first. Since I had worked with BlazeVOX on numerous previous collections, I knew that my Selected Poems was in very good hands.

Was the process of selecting pieces from previous collections different than putting together a new collection?

When I compiled the poems from my previous collections for Scorched Altar, it was a much different process than working on a brand new collection. For me, writing a new poem or poetry book is an intuitive process, and I don’t reflect much on what I’m doing, at least in the drafting stage. If I allow myself to become too self-aware, that allows me to become self-critical, and then no writing gets done at all.

What I really enjoyed about the process of compiling Scorched Altar was that it prompted me to reflect on my body of work as a whole, to see patterns emerge from my writing over the past seven years, and to see progress and growth. The act of examining my poetry over the course of several years also helped me see what ideas, obsessions, and literary forms I returned to most frequently. And as a result, I came away from the process with many ideas for new projects, experiments, and poems that were completely different from anything I’d ever written before.

In many ways, the act of examining my body of work showed me what is possible within it.

Many of your pieces, especially in collections like Correspondence and Fortress, have a very visual element to how they’re arranged on the page. Do you ever perform these in readings? If so, do you have to explain how they’re set?

I think every poetry reading has some element of performance. Whether the poet shouts their poems, or sings them, or invites audience participation, I’m positive that all writers have a constructed persona, which is an extension of the work itself. With that in mind, I love performing my footnote poems at readings.

I typically read them in a completely flat, monotone voice, almost like the bad math professor that just about everyone had in college. I love seeing the audience lulled into a sense of comfort by the unexciting presentation of the work, only to be surprised by the wildly imaginative content.

You’re an active literary critic. Does this inform your writing? Help? Hinder?

I’m glad you asked about my reviewing and involvement with literary criticism. I love reviewing books, because it exposes me to poetry that is completely outside my comfort zone. This is great because it helps me question and interrogate what I normally do in my own writing. It pushes me to try new things and experiment more within my own practice. And it helps me see more clearly where my poems fit within the larger literary community.

The best thing about reviewing, though, is that it helps build relationships within publishing and writing. I’ve met friends, collaborators, and even mentors when working on reviews. And there’s nothing better than free books!

You’ve published 17 collections now. How do you keep the writing flame lit?

By reading and reviewing other poets. As long as you’re constantly being exposed to new ideas, literary forms, and aesthetics, you’ll always have something to write about.

I also run a small press, Noctuary Press, which has been great for my own creative practice. The press primarily publishes women’s writing that takes places across and beyond genre categories. Although I pride myself on my ability to question genre distinctions, reading submissions for the press has shown me the tremendous variety inherent in contemporary cross-genre writing by women. My work as editor has helped me see what’s possible within the hybrid forms I typically inhabit, and it’s a great deal more than I had initially envisioned.

One poet who no one knows but should–who is it?

Erin Bertram. She has several magnificent chapbooks out, including one from Kristy Bowen’s fabulous Dancing Girl Press. I’m just waiting for someone to realize that her first full-length book needs to be published (so I can buy it and read it!).

Who (or what) are you currently reading?

I’m very excited to check out Donna Stonecipher’s Model City and Dawn Lonsinger’s Whelm. I also just picked up Olena Kalytiak Davis’s newest collection, which I’ve been eagerly awaiting for quite some time.

And if you haven’t checked out Carl Adamshick’s Saint Friend, just published by McSweeney’s Books, then you sure are missing out. It’s a terrific collection, even better than his first book, Curses & Wishes.

And usually I ask for one piece of advice for poets, but we’ve done a few interviews together now. So instead, and this is probably still one piece of advice for poets, I’m going to ask you about your amazing organization and follow-up abilities, because you do a better job than most. Could you share how you stay organized and on task for writing, submitting, following up, etc.?

I’m probably going to out myself as a total nerd with this answer, but here goes:  Excel Spreadsheets. I keep track of everything (applications I’ve submitted, review copies sent, deadlines for applications) in a couple of gigantic spreadsheets.

If I could offer one piece of advice to poets, I’d say keep records of where you send your work, whether it’s review copies, applications, or poems. If you don’t remember where you sent something, then there’s no way you’ll ever be able to follow up with the decision maker.

And believe me, persistence pays off, especially in small press publishing.

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Robert Lee Brewer is the editor of Poet’s Market and author of Solving the World’s Problems. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

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2 thoughts on “Kristina Marie Darling: Poet Interview

  1. seingraham

    Yes – Marie Elena has cherry-picked the very thing that impressed me also…Kristina Marie’s advice is a version of something that occurs to me at least daily when I’m writing or especially when I’m trying to revise and/or edit … to paraphrase, if I find myself becoming too focussed when I’m writing, or going over my work, I get this sense of tunnel-vision, and can’t pull back enough to get a “big picture” view – the thing I need to complete the writing or the revising, if that makes any sense. When I read what Kristina Marie had written along this vein…it was like coming home.

    Thanks so much for the interview Robert and Kristina Marie. You’re very inspirational with your productivity and encouragement…I look forward to your interviews so much.

  2. Marie Elena

    Such an impressive body of work!

    ” If I allow myself to become too self-aware, that allows me to become self-critical, and then no writing gets done at all.” This is great advice, but difficult to put into practice … at least for me.

    Thank you for the interview, and my best to you, Kristina Marie!

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