Kristina Marie Darling is the author of seventeen books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and a forthcoming hybrid genre collection called Fortress (Sundress Publications, 2014). 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. (Bio adapted from Darling’s website).
TCJWW: In writing Vow, were you drawing from a specific experience or a mix of them? What was it that drove you to craft this collection?
Darling: That’s a great question. Most of my writing is autobiographical in some way, but I don’t think that writers should have to feel limited by the experience that they’ve chosen to write about. All too often, I hear writers say that they can’t change the poem they’ve written because then they wouldn’t be accurately depicting the events of their lives. I believe that personal experience is just the starting point for a poem, story, or an essay. It’s up to the writer to transform that experience into what’s most useful for the poem, the reader, and the larger manuscript as a whole.
When writing Vow, I was thinking about (you guessed it) heartache. But I was interested in using my experience as a point of entry to larger social questions: To what extent are women pressured into relationships and marriages? Is marriage a kind of contract, and why are the terms of this contract always shifting? How is it possible to consent to such an agreement, when one lacks so much information? Even though it is somewhat autobiographical, I hope that the book offers something interesting and thought-provoking to those who don’t share my exact experiences. After all, the poems I most admire use specific details, images, and events as point of entry to universal questions.
TCJWW: Were you trying to add something to this idea of the vow, or trying to get readers to think deeply about the concept itself?
Darling: I like to think of Vow as an interrogation of marriage as a cultural phenomenon, which will not only prompt the reader to think deeply about the concept, but to view it through a new lens. I’m very interested in deconstructing marriage as a ritual, in which everyday objects are rendered suddenly strange. So much of the time, when brides are preparing for wedding ceremonies, they don’t realize the enormous emotional, historical, and cultural weight that the smallest items carry: the garter, the white dress, even the veil. In a wedding ceremony, each object, each gesture, is sedimented with history. With that in mind, I hope that Vow prompts the reader to see marriage (as ceremony, as institution, as ritual) from a new perspective, with particular attention to the ways that these small remnants of history permeate our lives and our thinking.
TCJWW: Talk to us about the white space in your work—how did you use it and why do you think it matters?
Darling: I choose to incorporate white space in my work because I’m interested in creating a match between form and content. So much of the book depicts a marriage that’s literally being unmade, a marriage that unravels before the reader’s eyes. I wanted this idea of a marriage coming apart at the seams to be enacted in both the style and the content of the text. For me, white space is interesting because it can mirror the content of the work, but also complicate it, adding to the possibilities for interpretation. While one might read the white space as an unraveling, or an unmaking, it might also be interpreted as a return to, or desire for, the white dress and the ideologies surrounding marriage. With that in mind, I’m very interested in creating a more active role for the reader, in which he or she chooses between several possible interpretations, in effect actualizing the literary text.
TCJWW: What do you call a poem composed entirely in the footnotes (something we find quite wonderful)? Is this approach meant to ignite reflection in readers as they add in their own voice to what is/is not in the text above?
Darling: Thank you for the kind words about my footnote poems. You’re absolutely right that they’re meant to ignite reflection on the part of the reader. I like to think of the footnotes as an invitation to the reader, which allows them to imagine the “main” text as they would want it to be. When working with fragmented forms, it’s important to leave room for the reader’s imagination, and not to over-determine their thinking and imagining. But it’s also crucial to give the reader enough information to work with. For me, fragmented forms are especially challenging, because they require a delicate balance on the part of the writer.
TCJWW: What are you hoping readers take away from the nontraditional formatting of your book?
Darling: When the reader sees the nontraditional formatting of my book, I hope that they see that there are many different relationships that are possible between artist and audience. Most of the time, writers see themselves as conveying meaning to a reader who passively accepts their message. But it’s also possible for the reader to assume a more active role, and participate alongside the poet in the process of creating meaning from the work.