“The Tension between Order and Chaos”: An Interview with Kristina Marie Darling by Shin Yu Pai


Kristina Marie Darling is the author of twenty books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and Scorched Altar: Selected Poems and Stories 2007-2014 (BlazeVOX Books, 2014). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, 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 was recently selected as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome. Her most recent book, The Sun & the Moon, was just released by BlazeVOX Books.

I’m curious about the formal constraints that organize this book. Reading the linked prose poetry sections which are filled with recurring imagery and language, I was reminded of the musicality and looping patterns of sestinas. Can you please talk about your use of form in this book?

That’s a great question, and I love the comparison you draw between the prose poems and sestinas. I value the sense of unity that these inherited forms provide, especially within a book-length manuscript. Within my own practice, though, I often have a difficult time rendering my ideas, imagery, and language compatible with forms like the sonnet, the villanelle, and the sestina. I enjoy inventing my own formal constraints, since this seems to give me the best of both worlds: the unity and sense of order associated with writing in form, and the freedom to discover the poem or sequence as I write it. To make impulsive and intuitive choices, rather than striving for loyalty to the formal constraint.

When writing The Sun & the Moon, I was unsure at first what form the book would take, since the sequence began in fragments. I was drawn to the little prose boxes you see in the book because they worked in tension with the chaos and violence in the content of the manuscript. As I drafted the book, I wanted to see how long I could sustain the tension between order and chaos, between the uniform appearance of the poems and the way that the images and motifs slowly changed shape. I hope that the relationship between form and content will spark the reader’s curiosity, and add to the possibilities for interpretation.

The sections that I felt most drawn to were Appendix B and C—though they were made more meaningful by the first section. Appendix B seemed to act as a kind of document, as if a diary destroyed in a fire by soot, water damage, erasures. Appendix C functioned for me as if some kind of relationship field notes—can you again, please speak of how these structures and forms operate in your larger project? How did you arrive at using these forms and structures?

I appreciate your careful reading of the book’s Appendix B and C. Appendix B actually consists of erasures of the earlier section, but I love your comparison to a diary that has been destroyed by soot or fire damage. I arrived at these fragmented literary forms after seeing just how visually uniform the first section appeared. So in this respect, your comparison between the invented constraints of the prose poems and a sestina sequence is especially perceptive.

As I drafted the appendices, I was particularly interested in the ways that the same narrative could be fragmented, torn apart in different ways. I wanted to explore the myriad forms that textual violence could take, since each act of erasure, and every fragment, seemed to complicate the earlier part of the book in a different way. Along these lines, I wondered whether form, and the destruction of form, could act as an extension of the narrative in those first few poems. I hope that the Appendices prompt the reader to re-examine the initial sequence in The Sun & the Moon, and to find possibilities for interpretation that were not present before.

One of your previous collections used the strategy of erasure, which is also explored in this book. Why this particular technique with this subject?

As crazy as it sounds, I love erasing my own poems. Yes, it’s certainly enlightening to erase other writers’ texts, since erasure can serve as an opportunity for creative engagement with that other writer’s work. For me, it’s yet another form of creative literary criticism. Erasing my own work, though, allows me to use form, and the gesture of erasure, to hint at things that are unsayable in the content of my poems. To talk about being silenced, or rendered speechless, or even to gesture toward the ineffable, is extremely difficult for me in the content of a poem or story. With that in mind, I’m attracted to self-erasure as a literary device because it allows me to convey ideas that I could never communicate in the work itself.

You’ve published a number of books with BlazeVOX Books. Can you talk about your relationship with BlazeVOX as a publisher?

I love working with Geoffrey Gatza and BlazeVOX Books. With BlazeVOX, like many small press publishers, authors have a great deal of say in the cover art, the design elements, and the way that the work is presented to the reader. It’s become increasingly important to me that the work and it’s visual presentation are well-matched, and this is always the case with BlazeVOX.

On a different note, I love the connections I’ve made with other authors who are also included in the catalog. The opportunity for dialogue and community is important to me, so I appreciate the fact that many BlazeVOX authors collaborate and support each others’ work. The opportunity to interact with writers I admire (like Leah Umansky, Tony Trigilio, and Sophie Seita) is terrific. What’s more, Geoffrey is a talented editor, designer, and book promoter. And he truly believes in experimental poetry, his authors, and the books he publishes, which is increasingly rare in the contemporary literary landscape.

Shin Yu Pai is the author of several poetry collections, including Aux Arcs (La Alameda, 2013), Adamantine (White Pine, 2010), Sightings (1913 Press, 2007), and Equivalence (La Alameda, 2003). Her limited edition book arts projects include Hybrid Land (Filter Press, 2011), Works on Paper (Convivio Bookworks, 2007) and The Love Hotel Poems (Press Lorentz, 2005). For more info, visit shinyupai.com.

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