Night Songs: An Interview with Kristina Marie Darling


Kristina Marie Darling is the author of sixteen books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and a forthcoming hybrid genre collection called Fortress from Sundress Publications. 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 PhD in Poetics at SUNY Buffalo. Her first book, Night Songs, was recently reissued by Gold Wake Press in 2013.

I’ve read two of your more recent books: Vow and X Marks the Dress: A Registry (which was co-written with Carol Guess). In both of these, and in the second edition of Night Songs, you use a very visual form of writing, placing poems in the margins and formatting them as indices. How do you decide how to place your work on the page? What does it mean for you to do this visually? Are you a very visual person; do you also practice visual art?

These are great questions. I’ve always believed that poems are visual, even when we don’t necessarily realize it. When we see a poem, and look at how it’s presented on the page, we as readers form many preconceived ideas about what the poem will be like. If it’s in prose, or in the form of an index, we assume that there will be clear explanation of what things “mean.” If the poems are scattered on the page, rather than being neatly aligned to the left margin, we assume that meaning too will be fragmented within the poem. I love working against these readerly expectations of what a text should or ought to be. In Night Songs especially, I enjoyed presenting indices that don’t present a clear explanation of what things are supposed to mean. I also tried to present work in experimental forms (prose poems, lyric fragments, erasures) that is still accessible, and that still engage the reader through narrative.

You use French a bit in Night Songs; in “Les Fenetres” (windows?), “Cantatrice” (singer (where you refer to Tosca, an Italian opera)), “The New Conductor” (as you reference a ‘coup d’Etat’ (revolution) happening … why was this important in this piece? Is it set in France?

When I first started writing Night Songs, I had started what turned out to be a life-long love affair with French prose poetry. The French words and phrases certainly help situate the book within an existing literary tradition. But I’m also very interested in creating moments in the book where language is defamiliarized and made strange to the reader. I thought of the book as being written mostly for an English speaking audience, so the passages that drift between languages are intended to make the text seem suddenly inaccessible, prompting the reader to question the assumptions that they bring to literary text (in other words, that the meaning of the text will be transparent, that the language will be consistent, and so on).

The poems seem to tell an abstract narrative about an orchestra; reflections of musicians, conductors and audience. Is music a big part of your life? How did this idea come about? Do you feel as a writer connected to musicians in any way, when you do readers or when you create?

I like to think of classical music, particularly the idea of the orchestra, as a metaphor for the creative process. There’s definitely a lot that musicians and writers have in common. The act of writing is itself a performance, since the writer assumes a constructed persona, even if they’re writing from autobiography. And there’s the constant anticipation of how the performance will be received. Perhaps most importantly, I like to think of writing poetry as being—much like playing an instrument in an ensemble—a communal act. Writing never happens in isolation, but rather, all writing is a collaborative endeavor.

As your title, Night Songs, suggests, much of the narrative is set in the dark, evening or at nighttime, as though night itself is a main character. Why was this such an important motif in the book?

I really like your description of night as one of the main characters in the book. When writing Night Songs, I was very interested in the poem as a space where transformation becomes possible. I think that this is true of night as well, since most of the more well-known literary descriptions present it as a kind of liminal place, in which the boundaries between ideas, emotions, and people are known to dissolve. With that in mind, I hoped to offer the reader a matching of concrete imagery and more conceptual ideas about poetry, artistic practice, and transience.

In “The Musician Considers Modernity and He Sighs” you write: “The city has turned into a mechanical city, he observes one morning, a tiny ballerina spinning inside a glistening box.” Do you think musicians, or do you, believe that the quality of music is fading, and are you here giving a message about anything else, literature or art, as well?

That’s a really interesting reading of that passage, and one that I didn’t necessarily intend when writing the piece. With that said, one of the most enjoyable things about having my first book published was the wide range of perspectives I got from reviewers, readers, and members of the literary community. I love being surprised by someone else’s reading of my text, because it opens up new possibilities for me as I continue to write. What’s more, it shows the poet that more is possible within his or her own work than they had initially thought.

In “Appendix A: Collages & Found Texts.” You write in “VI”: (in this interview, your beautiful spacings cannot be redone, so I have excerpted in straight form):

—The heart
is spacious enough
for all the music,
so let it be.

There is but one questions
To ask of a composition—
whether it reverent,
& in what sense
it is of

Is this how you approach music, really? Also writing, and if so, is this how we should approach your writing, and what do you hope people get out of Night Songs?

I like to think of all art as being “of service,” whether the message is overtly political or not. I say this because artists work as part of a community, and every work of art should illuminate, and at the same time complicate, the works of others. With that in mind, I hope that people read Night Songs as an attempt to blur boundaries—between languages, between disciplines, and between modes of writing—and at times dissolve them all together. For me, this is itself a small act of service.

Sally Deskins is a writer and artist based in Morgantown, West Virginia. Her writing has recently been published in Galatea Resurrects, Her Kind, Prick of the Spindle, Sein Und Werden and Cactus Heart. She keeps an online journal on women in art, Les Femmes Folles. Her art and writing focus on the lives and work of women in the arts.

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