Few poets venture as beautifully in the stillness of nocturnal spaces as Kristina Marie Darling. Darling’s first full-length book Night Songs, put out by Gold Wake Press, entrances the reader with scene after scene of crumbling architecture, lonely musicians, and half-finished films. Dreamscapes cycle through Night Songs so naturally that, by the time Darling has begun erasing her own poems, the reader has given him or herself over to the language, and is fully invested in the beauty of Darling’s pale, haunting figures.
A graduate of Washington University, Darling has put out six books of poetry (including 2012’s The Body is a Little Gilded Cage, also by Gold Wake) and has two books forthcoming: Melancholia (An Essay) and Palimpsest. Currently, she is completing her Ph.D. work in Poetics at SUNY-Buffalo. She was gracious enough to sit down with us to talk about the prose poem, Surrealism, and cinema’s influence on her poetry.
1. The first book of yours I had the pleasure of encountering was Night Songs. In the book, you create a space that is both ornate and sparse and where movement and narrative become very uncanny. How do you think the genre of the prose poem allows these elements to thrive in your collection?
That’s a great question. I’ve always been drawn to this genre because readers bring so many preconceived ideas to prose. When someone encounters a few paragraphs on a page, they expect a narrative arc, a sense of resolution, and a clear explanation of how one idea relates to the next. I find that it’s great fun to work against these expectations, and caution the reader against forming judgments about content on the basis of form. I hope to encourage readers to become more open minded about what is possible in a text, rather than envisioning limitations for a piece of writing before engaging with it in a meaningful way.
While I enjoy reading lyric poetry, sonnets, etc., I find that this process of making the reader step back and question their judgments about a text is much more difficult when working in these more traditional forms. Fragmentation, ornate imagery, and subversions of traditional narrative structures often seem surprising in prose, but are somewhat expected in verse. I think this is because the writer is not working against the same set of readerly expectations. For me, this is one of the great benefits of working in prose.
2. In the prose poem section, many of the poems readily engage and evoke both dreams and cinema. What connections do you make between dreams and film, and how do you see the poems in Night Songs enacting or conflating these states?
You’re absolutely right that there’s a connection between dreams and cinema in Night Songs, and that the two are often conflated. I think that they require fairly similar work of the spectator. With dreams, one is asked to imagine connections between disparate images, memories, and impressions. For me, the best films require the same work of the viewer. Modernist filmmakers especially relied on montage to suggest connections between ideas without fully articulating them. I admire the efforts of Sergei Eisenstein, the Pool Group, and other experimental filmmakers to require a more active participation on the part of the audience. And this is exactly what I hoped to encourage in readers of my own work. When I was writing Night Songs, I wanted to create a book that would allow the reader to participate in the process of creating meaning from the text.
3. For my own curiosity, could you give us an idea of which poets may have first stirred your interest in prose poems?
I’ve always admired Sabrina Orah Mark’s work. She was one of the first poets I read who worked in prose, and her piece “Box Three, Spool Five” immediately made me want to try prose poetry myself. Kristy Bowen, Simone Muench, Joshua Clover, G.C. Waldrep, John Ashbery, Jesse Ball, Eric Baus, and Geoff Bouvier were also inspirations for me early on. As a reader who was just beginning to write poems, I was always hoping to be forced out of my comfort zone, and made to question my most basic assumptions about form and genre. I wanted writers to show me things that I didn’t know were possible. The poets I’ve mentioned accomplished that with lyricism, grace, and a sense of humor as well.
4. In addition to the prose poems, Night Songs also contains a fascinating section where you deconstruct those poems into smaller, fragmented pieces. Did reconfiguring the special arrangement of the prose poems on the page bring to light anything about your own writing process?
The practice of erasure was a liberating experience for me. At first, I worried about the dangers of appropriating someone else’s text. I was convinced that I should maintain the integrity of the original writer’s vision, and stifle my own poetic voice. But I realized that all readers appropriate, re-envision, and reconfigure the text with which they are engaging. The act of appropriation is really the basis of all literary interpretation. Once I allowed myself to take liberties, erasure was revelatory for my own writing practice. I became fascinated by the idea that a text can exist within another literary or cultural text. It merely has to be unearthed by the poet. And as I continued working on erasures for later collections, I was inspired by the infinite possibilities that exist in this respect.
5. The poems you write by deconstructing, despite coexisting with their original counterparts, stand very much on their own merit. How does this process of deconstructing poems and presenting both sets interact with the idea of dreams, musicality, and the overall foggy aesthetic that lingers in the book?
I like to think of the poem – whether it’s an erasure or a prose poem – as a device for generating meaning. What I mean by this is that the writer does not present a single possibility for interpretation, but rather, he or she opens up a set of possibilities for the reader. The reader is not left to their own imaginings, since they are guided by the material presented in the poem. But the reader does participate actively in process of creating meaning from the book. For me, the work of the poem is much like the work of a moviegoer or a dreamer. He or she is presented with disparate scenes and images, and the connections between them are suggested by the artist. But the spectator is asked to imagine the narrative that connects them. The work is ultimately brought into being by the spectator, who gives these various phenomena a common meaning.
6. It seems to me that your poetry, more so than a lot of contemporary American poetry, engages the aesthetics or ideologies of Surrealism. At the very least, you make your interest in Freud clear, and I’m sure Breton would approve. Would you say the Surrealist legacy and approach to poetry has had an impact on your own work?
I remember reading Andre Breton’s “The Mystery Corset” before I had even started writing my own poetry. I admired his willingness to eschew what most writers perceive as their foremost obligation – in other words, presenting the reader with a clear explanation of how the various phenomena in the work are related. Much of his work seemed to suggest the artificiality narrative cohesion, however satisfying it may be. With that said, he was one of the first writers I read who embraced subjectivity as a source of artistic possibility. This aspect of his work was something I would later strive for in my own erasure poems, footnotes, and lyric fragments.
7. Finally, I read on the American Literary Review’s blog that you’re toying with a novella in verse. Are there any updates on that project or details you would be willing to share?
The verse novella was just completed and accepted for publication by Patasola Press. It’s called Palimpsest. I hope you’ll look for it in late 2012!
To find out more about Kristina Marie Darling, visit her website, kristinamariedarling.com