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Kristina Marie Darling & Carol Guess: Poets Interview

This interview is a little different, because I have two interview subjects: Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess, who collaborated on the collection X Marks the Dress: A Registry. How exciting!

Kristina Marie Darling has been interviewed on this blog before. She's the author of 13 books, including Melancholia and Petrarchan. 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.

X Marks the Dress - Book Cover - 2

Carol Guess has also authored 13 books of poetry and prose, including Switch and Doll Studies: Forensics. Forthcoming books include collaborations with Kristina Marie Darling, Kelly Magee, and Daniela Olszewska. She is Professor of English at Western Washington University. Learn more at

This book brings together an interesting collection of prose poems, footnotes, endnotes, and glossary terms. As I've come to expect from Darling, it pushes the boundaries of poetry.

Here's an example from the collection:

Crocheted Tissue Box Holder, by Kristina Marie Darling & Carol Guess

Sometimes things go wrong at weddings. Someone steps on the veil or loses the ring. In a "trash the dress" shoot on the bank of a river, one bride lost her footing, dead weight in her dress. I can't save you; I can only be careful. For example, my mistress won't help with the cake. For example, we won't get married in Texas, where I'm wanted for something I'll never confess. Don't worry your pretty neck over dresses: tea-colored silk, Rosaline lace. We'll lash our rings to a red satin pillow. Keep the flower girl leashed. Use erasable ink.


What are you currently up to?

Darling: I'm finishing up a manuscript called Fortress, which describes the aftermath of a woman's addiction and failed marriage in lyrical prose vignettes. In addition to Fortress, I've been working on a collaboration with photographer and costumer Max Avi Kaplan. The book I'm co-writing with Max depicts the inner lives of 1950s housewives through both Polaroids and a series of linked prose poems. It's tentatively titled Music for another life, and I'm very excited to send it out into the world soon.

Carol Guess

Carol Guess

Guess: Animal babies! I’ve just finished collaborating with fiction writer Kelly Magee on a short story manuscript titled With Animal, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. All of the stories focus on humans who give birth to animal babies. We used magical realism to explore the theme of alternative family structures.

X Marks the Dress is an interesting project in one sense—just because it's a collaborative project. How did this project get started?

Darling: I first wrote to Carol as part of my efforts to promote my fourth book, Melancholia (An Essay). I had admired her work for years, and even reviewed her book, Tinderbox Lawn. When Carol wrote back, and I discovered that the admiration I had for her work was mutual, I was thrilled. It wasn't long before Carol and I started discussing the possibility of working together on a project. Carol had just finished a collaborative book with Daniela Olszewska, so collaboration was already part of her writing practice. Since it was my first time collaborating with another writer, I was thrilled to learn from someone more experienced than myself.

We started by simply writing short prose poems in response to one another's work. Initially, we conceived of the project as a set of individual poems, but it didn't take long for the project to grow into a book length-manuscript. The project gained momentum quickly, and developed faster than any of my single-author projects have in the past.

Guess: I’ll just add that we spent some time brainstorming the topic of the book. We really wanted to find the right theme; once we decided to create a fake wedding registry, the structure of the book evolved organically.

Were there any obstacles or challenges to collaborating on this book?

Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling

Darling: For me, the biggest challenge was the negative energy I felt when I mentioned collaboration to other writers. Almost everyone I talked to about collaborative writing went through great lengths to caution me against it. I have several friends who've had trouble publishing collaborative books, and they told me that we'd never find a publisher for X Marks the Dress: A Registry. One friend even told me the (quite staggering) dollar amount he had spent entering his collaborative manuscript in contests with no success. With all of this going on, it was sometimes difficult to keep a positive mindset about the submission process.

With that said, I was pleasantly surprised by the positive response we got when sending individual poems out to journals. Once we had finished the manuscript and built a track record of journal publication, it took us only three weeks to find a publisher. And we were both thrilled to work with an excellent publisher like Gold Wake Press. The biggest lesson I learned from all of this was not to let other people discourage me from experimenting, challenging myself to grow as a writer, and finding new directions for my creative practice.

Guess: Honestly, no! Working with Kristina made the process a pleasure start to finish.

How did you handle submissions—both of individual poems to publications and the collection as a whole to Gold Wake Press?

Darling: Although I volunteered to send individual poems to magazines, we brainstormed together about potential publishers for the book. The great thing about submitting collaborative books is that you have two writers with great ideas for submissions, as well as valuable connections to great presses. We had twice as many options as we would have had if either of us had written the book on our own.

Guess: Kristina also suggested that we label every submission with both our names, rather than dividing pieces into co-authored pieces, hers, and mine. I loved this suggestion; it freed up my writing. Suddenly I was no longer solely responsible for the work, even pieces I wrote individually. The psychology behind our collaboration was to emphasize teamwork at all times, even when we were writing sections of the book on our own.


Get your poetry published!


Find book publishers, literary journals, online publications, contests, grants, and more in the 2014 Poet's Market. Listings include contact information, submission preferences, and other helpful information. Plus, there are articles on the craft of poetry, business of poetry, and promotion of poetry, in addition to actual contemporary poems. This is the essential resource for poets.

Click to continue.


You're both fairly prolific: Kristina has 8 books, Carol 11. Do you have any tricks to staying inspired and staying focused?

Darling: First and foremost, I try to read as much as I can. I have trouble writing anything if I haven't been reading work by other poets, fiction writers, etc. I also seek out new literary forms. That way, the writing process doesn't become monotonous, but rather, is always exciting and challenging. With that in mind, I love experimenting with appropriated literary forms, such as glossaries, footnotes, endnotes, appendices, etc. When working with found forms, and templates that are not germane to poetry, there are always new directions you can take your work. You just have to seek them out. For me, the best way to do this is to read (in addition to contemporary poetry) things that would never appear on the syllabus of a poetry course (which can range from popular texts to very technical science writing). You really never know when you'll find something that might prove useful for your creative practice.

Guess: I write because it gives me pleasure to make music, and because I think in terms of lyrical lines and compelling characters. I see secret lives behind every curtain; that’s just how I move through the world. A literary life can’t be forced; coaxed, but not forced.

When I lived in New York City and was trying to make it as a ballet dancer, my whole life was discipline, denial, and perfection. I was a lousy dancer! There was no pleasure in my process, so the audience didn’t get pleasure from watching me dance. The best thing I ever did for my career as a dancer was to quit dancing.

When I lost that form of communication, I began writing to fill the gap. Writing brings me pleasure that dancing never did. So my advice is to figure out what art form matters to you, and pursue that. If it’s writing, you’ll know, and you won’t want to stop. If writing is always a struggle, ask yourself why you feel determined to be a writer. Are your motivations pure? There’s no money in publishing with independent presses; there’s no fame in writing poetry. I’m in it for the love of it, because I have to write or I’d go crazy.

Finish this statement: Poetry should ______________.

Darling: Poetry should take you out of your comfort zone. I say this because the best contemporary poetry I've read, and the work that I love the most, prompts the reader to assume a more active role. I enjoy when poetic texts ask me to participate alongside the poet in the process of creating meaning. But since most literary works expect the reader to assume a more passive role, the prospect of assuming a more active role in relation to the text is uncomfortable for most readers. With that said, I believe that it's incredibly rewarding if you can work through this initial discomfort. My favorite poetic texts are often a collaboration between artist and audience.

Guess: There are no “shoulds” in my poetry worldview!

What (or who) are you currently reading?

Darling: I love Donna Stonecipher's work, and return to her book, The Cosmopolitan, constantly. I'm also reading Jeffrey Pethybridge's Striven, The Bright Treatise and Shira Dentz's Door of Thin Skins. Shin Yu Pai's Aux Arcs, Jean Nordhaus's Innocence, and Tyler Mills' Tongue Lyre are also great books that I've enjoyed recently.

Guess: For poetry: Eva Heisler and Eileen Myles. For fiction: Sarah McCarry. For pop culture and politics: Autostraddle.

If you could pass on only one piece of advice to poets considering a collaborative project of their own, what would it be?

Darling: It's important to respond to your collaborator's work and to accommodate his or her voice. Yes, you should maintain some degree of artistic autonomy. But a good collaboration starts with listening.

Guess: Choose the right collaborator.


Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer's Digest Writing Community and a fan of collaborative poetry. Press 53 recently published his debut full-length poetry collection, Solving the World's Problems (click here to learn more). Voted the Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere in 2010, Brewer also curates the Insta-poetry series for Virginia Quarterly Review. He's married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and one princess). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


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