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Kristina Marie Darling: Poet Interview

Believe it or not, it's been more than a year since our last interview with Kristina Marie Darling, who I consider one of the hardest working poets in the world. For those who are new to her...

Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of over 20 books of poetry, most recently Dark Horse (C&R Press, 2017). Her awards include two Yaddo residencies, a Hawthornden Castle Fellowship, and a Visiting Artist Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome, as well as grants from the Whiting Foundation and Harvard University's Kittredge Fund.

Her work appears in The Gettysburg Review, Agni, New American Writing, The Iowa Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. She is Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Quarterly and Grants Specialist at Black Ocean.

Here's a poem from her collaborative work with John Gallaher, Ghost / Landscape:

A History of the Pastoral, by Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher

The only difference now is that the trees are covered in ice.

One by one the branches seal themselves off, disappearing into their darkened rooms. Soon the foliage around our house is made of mirrors. Perhaps that's what invited sadness into the yard to begin with. You noticed the flowers looking not quite "morning," not quite "yellow." Still I stutter and try to name them. The naturalist's Latin dead weight on my tongue.

A frozen bird, a branch snapped in two. Bonjour tristesse, I say to the meadow. But the landscape no longer remembers me.


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From following you on Facebook, I know you’ve been crazy busy lately. What have you been up to recently, and what’s coming up?

First of all, thank you so much for following my work! For the past couple of years, I’ve been artist residency hopping. I apply for grants and residential fellowships ahead of time, and then, I travel to these art centers to work on my writing. This year, I attended artist residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Yaddo, Caldera, and the American Academy in Rome, and I’m getting ready to head to the Helen R. Whiteley Center, the University of Washington’s research facility on San Juan Island.

This has been a wonderful opportunity that I’m so grateful for. These residencies provided the gift of time, space, and community when I needed it the most. My next poetry collection, DARK HORSE, is under contract with C & R Press, one of my favorite literary publishers. I’ve been working hard on this poetry manuscript during my time as artist-in-residence. Did I mention that the book has blackouts, daggers, and a female character who steals husbands? It’s my first venture into non-autobiographical persona poems, and it’s been tremendous fun. My first volume of literary criticism is also under contract with C & R Press, and the book gathers essays I’ve contributed to The Best American Poetry, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Agni, and Tupelo Quarterly. I hope you’ll check out both books when they’re published in 2017!

BlazeVOX [books] published your collection Ghost / Landscape, a collaborative effort with John Gallaher. How did you both go about collaborating on this collection? What was the process like?


It was such an honor to collaborate with John on this book, since he’s one of my all-time favorite writers. If you haven’t read The Little Book of Guesses, then you definitely should. To start with, I sent John a poem, then we simply took turns contributing whole poems to the manuscript. I will say the order in which the poems appear is not the order in which they were written. John had some brilliant ideas for structuring the manuscript. We moved the poems about the bank robbery and “the freezer we keep forgetting we keep in the basement” to the very beginning of the book. Looking back, I kind of wish we had written those poems first!

This is not your first collaborative work or collection, so I’m making the assumption you enjoy the process of collaborative poetry. Do you?

I love collaborating! It often pushes me in directions that I wouldn’t explore if I were working on a single-author collection. When I write by myself, I plan things out a bit too much. But there’s a spontaneity to collaboration that I find refreshing. With Ghost / Landscape, I couldn’t make a plan because honestly, I didn’t know what John would do next. Similarly, when working on X Marks the Dress with Carol Guess, we agreed early on that I’d write poems in the voice of the wife, and Carol would write in the voice of the husband. I didn’t expect the husband character to reveal midway through the manuscript that he was really a woman! The fact that collaborative writing is so wildly unpredictable makes the process feel less like work, and more like play.

You’ve recently taken on some editorial roles, in addition to the work you do as a poet. First question, how did you land these roles?

That’s a great question! Most people don’t know this, but I volunteered in the small press since I was an undergraduate in college. Even then, I knew that literary magazines, web journals, and chapbook presses were incredibly important – they place power in the hands of many, instead of allowing only a few people to decide what gets published. I was inspired (and am still inspired!) by how vibrant and diverse the literary landscape was becoming. In the very beginning, I interned, read the slush pile, proofread essays, and did things that few people wanted to do. But these experiences were incredibly valuable. I learned how publishing works, made valuable contacts, and most importantly, I realized that I was part of a community.

Now the editorial work that I get to do is even more fun and fulfilling. I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Quarterly and the Grants Specialist at Black Ocean, where I secure grant funding for literature in translation and other exciting book manuscripts, including a documentary project that focuses on contemporary visual artists of color. But the experiences I had volunteering early in my career are incredibly important to my approach as an editor. I look at literary journals and small presses as a forum for dialogue, a way of hosting a conversation between creative practitioners. I hope you’ll check out Black Ocean’s growing translation offerings, and the newest issue of Tupelo Quarterly, which will be released in October!

Second question, what has the process been like so far for these editorial roles?

It’s been an amazing experience! It’s a delight to work with such talented and creative people. Tupelo Quarterly recently welcomed a number of new editors, including Shane McCrae, Allison Benis White, Alex Lemon, Virginia Konchan, Zach Savich, Lisa Olstein, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Emma Bolden, and many more. It’s great to work with editors who represent so many different, though complimentary, aesthetics. Since editors at Tupelo Quarterly regularly invite poetry and fiction submissions, I’ve enjoyed discovering amazing writers through this solicitation process. When reading general submissions, it’s always thrilling to see what other writers are working on.

Working with the Black Ocean staff members and authors has been equally enjoyable. I have to say, it’s a privilege to see work from my favorite writers before it’s even available for pre-order. More than anything, seeing the wide range of beautiful work being written and published has shown me what’s possible within my own writing and thinking.

I know you travel a bit for your poetry. Do you have a favorite reading venue? Bookstore?

My all time favorite venue for poetry readings is Danny’s Tavern in Chicago. I read there with Kyle McCord a few years back. It was tremendous fun, and I met writers there who I’m still in touch with. That’s where I first met Carrie Olivia Adams, who’s now my fellow editor at Black Ocean, and Virginia Konchan, who’s now my colleague at Tupelo Quarterly. Larry Sawyer also hosts a terrific reading series in Chicago, which takes place at Myopic Books. Left Bank Books in St. Louis and Rust Belt Books in Buffalo are also terrific venues. Lastly, I once had the privilege of giving a reading on the rooftop of the Castle of Otranto, which was attended by sculptors, painters, arts administrators, and poetry enthusiasts, all of whom were outnumbered by the ghosts.

Who (or what) are you currently reading?

So many books, so little time! Right now I’m reading Karla Kelsey’s A Conjoined Book, Briane Teare’s The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven, Lindsey Tigue’s System of Ghosts, Noah Warren’s Destroyer in the Glass, Robin Coste Lewis’s Voyage of the Sable Venus, Brian Blanchfield’s Proxies: Essays Near Knowing, Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s Solar Maximum, Emma Bolden’s The Sad Epistles, Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women, and many more.


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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