Justin Bigos: First, thank you for visiting UNT this January to read your poetry. As I was listening to you read, I had the sense that your poems might be typographically playful. And indeed, when I had your books in my hand, I saw that they are. Are you more attentive to the poem as human voice, or as aesthetic object on the page – or something in between or other?
Kristina Marie Darling: That’s a great question. When I first started writing, I saw myself as a lyric poet. I definitely believed that there should be a connection between poetry and an authentic spoken voice. After reading the work of poets like C.D. Wright, Myung Mi Kim, and Kristy Bowen, I became interested in writing poems that allow multiple voices to coexist within the same narrative space. For me, the use of typography is useful for differentiating between the various speakers, found texts, and types of rhetoric that inhabit my poems. I do believe that poems should be musical. But I’m skepticalof the belief that poetry is synonymous with a spoken voice. For me, poetry’s great appeal is in the potential for dialogue between found texts, and between different types of appropriated language. I’ve found that typography in my own poetry helps to facilitate this dialogue.
JB: Some of your poems “take liberties with” the letters of H.D., those written to Richard Aldington and to Freud during H.D.’s psychoanalysis. I don’t get the sense many people read H.D. these days. Why should they – not just her letters but her poetry?
KMD: I definitely agree that H.D. isn’t as widely read as some of her contemporaries. This is a mystery to me, since H.D.’s work reflects many of the aesthetic concerns that define contemporary poetry. I see her as the first truly modern poet. Works like Sea Garden, Helen in Egypt, and Trilogy privilege tangible details over abstraction, yet they allow these concrete images to serve as a point of entry to discussions of love, death, and history. This is definitely something that contemporary poets like Srikanth Reddy, Eric Baus, and Lisa Robertson strive for. H.D.’s work is also wonderful in its matching of form and content. Tribute to Freud, for instance, offers a lyric account of H.D.’s sessions with Freud. The work itself is driven by the same associative logic that one would observe in psychoanalysis. With that in mind, I think there’s much to be learned from H.D.’s work in terms of craft. Her aesthetic concerns align beautifully with those of contemporary poets, myself included.
JB: I’m interested in your claim that H.D. is the “first truly modernist poet.” Aside from her use of concrete imagery to enter larger human and historical discussions, what would make her modernist – and the “first” modernist? (Ezra Pound is tapping his fingers, waiting for your answer . . .)
KMD: It’s definitely a controversial claim, but one that I stand behind. I say this in part because many of H.D.’s contemporaries – especially Pound and Eliot – relied heavily on irony as a means to critique tradition. For me, this represents a very destructive approach to other people’s work. H.D.’s poetry seems to reflect a more constructive relationship with the writers who came before her. The use of montage in her work places literary tradition in tension with contemporary social and artistic concerns. This seems more compatible with the way that most people conceive of Modernist writing. My favorite literary critics – Adalaide Morris, Susan Stanford Friedman, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis – think of Modernism as an increased awareness of literary community, a sense that the artist is contributing to a larger conversation. H.D.’s poetry certainly reflects this sensibility. Rather than dismantling the conversation that preceded her, as Pound and Eliot often do, H.D. tries to give it contemporary relevance.
JB: The forms your poems take are often the corner-of-the-eye stuff of literature: footnotes, appendices, glossaries, miscellany. The poems are very attractive, of course, in what is unsaid, and they invite a reader who is willing to imagine, or at least sense, what might be central versus peripheral. How did you become interested in these kinds of poetic forms?
KMD: After reading Joshua Clover’s The Totality for Kids, Thalia Field’s Point and Line, and Jenny Boully’s The Body: An Essay, I was inspired by the ways these writers undermined readerly expectations. When I saw prose, footnotes, and other appropriated academic forms, I immediately expected a linear narrative. I was delighted when I found something altogether different – the wonderful associative logic that drives poetry. I became interested in creating these unusual relationships between form and content in my own work. With that said, you’re absolutely right that footnotes, glossaries, and appendices invite the audience to take a more active role. I like that readers are surprised when texts make these demands, and ask them to participate in the work of the poet.
JB: Have you experimented with any appropriated forms that are non-academic? I remember I once tried to write a poem in the form of a letter from a debt collection agency. It failed miserably, but was fun to try.
KMD: That does sound like fun. For awhile I was working on a series of epistolary poems that borrowed material from my AOL inbox. The text I used was mostly from emails that said harsh things about my writing. For example, one of these messages points out that the things I write often “fail to make the gesture of a poem.” Since I don’t respond well to unsolicited advice, I had a great time dismantling these critiques.
JB: Many of the poems in The Body is a Little Gilded Cage and Compendium seem to exist in a dreamy fin de siècle western Europe; Vienna is sometimes mentioned. Recurring images include green dresses, opera houses and lush parties, necklaces and jewels, garters, ribbons, taffeta, silk, and flowers. What is your attraction to this time and place? How do you think it resonates, if at all, with America in 2012?
KMD: I think there’s something inherently beautiful about the fin de siècle – a time when grandeur, fragility, and loss were intricately connected. With that said, the content of my poetry is often a vehicle for me to say something else, which I hope resonates with contemporary debates about form and genre. Both Compendium and The Body is a Little Gilded Cage strive to question the categories that we impose upon language. I’m very interested in challenging the limitations that we impose upon texts on the basis of their formal qualities. For example, readers often assume that creative writing and theoretical work are separate endeavors. By pairing conventionally poetic images – green dresses, opera houses, and necklaces – with the forms of academic discourse, I hope to suggest that poets can make theoretical contributions, and vice versa.
JB: Who and what are you reading right now? And what are your current projects?
KMD: At the moment, I’m reading My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe, as well a few books of poems: Lisa Robertson’s R’s Boat, Christopher Kennedy’s Ennui Prophet, and Eric Baus’s Scared Text. I’m also working on a verse novella, which contains an array of teacups, Zukofsky’s ghost, and silent films.
JB: Very exciting. I hope Louise Brooks makes an appearance in the novella. Thanks again, Kristina.
KMD: Thank you for the great questions!