Poet Spotlight: Kristina Marie Darling on Mapping Heartbreak
Kristina Marie Darling is the author of over twenty collections of poetry and hybrid prose. Her writing has been described by literary critics as “haunting,” “mesmerizing,” and “complex.” She has been awarded with a number of fellowships and grants by both U.S. and overseas universities, institutes, and organizations. She is currently working toward both a Ph.D. in English Literature at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo and an M.F.A. in Poetry at New York University. Here, Kristina shares a bit about her latest collection of poetry, hybrid art forms, and the act of writing as catharsis.
Your most recent book of poetry is Failure Lyric. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about.
Failure Lyric began as a series of erasures. I took a black marker to my four year correspondence with a male writer, who, out of respect for his work, will remain unnamed. What started out as an act of destruction became generative, since the hybrid prose pieces ultimately grew out of the erasures at the beginning and end of the book. Once I had erased every last email, note, and inscription, I started to write flash essays, which map my heartbreak and all of the unexpected places it brought me to: Saint Louis, Iowa, Burlington, and the now infamous Dallas/Fort Worth airport. So my initial attempts to destroy artifacts of the relationship became a documentary project, charting the crazy orbits that grief set me on.
The collection features mainly prose poems that unfold in a single story. Did you have a specific story you wanted to tell when you began writing? Or did the story evolve into being as you added individual poems together?
That’s a great question. I definitely discovered the story as I wrote. The book began as mere catharsis, an attempt to move past the end of the end of a relationship. With that said, I didn’t expect the artifacts of loss, and my own grief, to inspire me to write at all. I didn’t expect anything to come of the erasures except peace of mind maybe, or a good night’s sleep. Then I couldn’t stop writing. As the book began to take shape, the order was very close to the chronological order in which the poems were written. My grief became something concrete, a ledger of sorts, which will never be completely finished.
Some of your work has been described as hybrid prose. How would you define hybrid prose? Would the prose poems in Failure Lyric fall under this definition? How do you decide which form to use when you approach a new piece of poetry or prose?
While there are many different definitions of hybridity circulating within the literary community, I would define hybrid as a text that uses the resources of more than one genre. This can range from combinations of essay and poetry to hybrids of poetry and visual art, poetry and fiction, or even poetry and the dramatic arts. When deciding which form to use for a piece of poetry or prose, I usually consider the expectations the reader will bring to the text. Even more importantly, how can I undermine those readerly expectations? I see form as an opportunity to purposefully mislead the reader, offering them moments of beauty where they likely wouldn’t expect to find them.
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Down Stranger Roads by Roger Craik
Blazevox Books, N.Y.2014
ISBN: 978-1-60964-135-1 $16
Roger Craik is very much the Englishman abroad. The alluring cover image of his new collection is derived from a painting by Algernon Newton which is housed in Nottingham’s Castle Museum and Art Gallery. ‘Regent’s Canal, Maida Vale, London’, the picture is called, but the straight stretch of water heading off into the distance under a blue, innocently-clouded sky, could conceivably be of many another city. The names of cities – Paris, Venice, Rome –/ Held out their arms, Louis Simpson wrote in his great poem, ‘My Father in the Night Commanding, No’, and reading through Down Stranger Roads it soon becomes apparent that foreign cities have held out their arms to Craik. They include Amsterdam, Bruges, Sofia and Izmir, in all of which places he has taught and/or spent enough time to cast an attentive eye on people and objects.
But however perceptive he may be, he is always in the role, if not of flaneur, then of outsider. His characteristic tone is that of a slightly bemused, wry observer, yearning, perhaps, for a closer acquaintance with the exotica that passes before his eye and can be turned by imaginative process into something more substantial, but aware that this presumed substantiality is itself elusive, possibly even illusory.
And even though I’m only thirty-three, and even though I’ve told myself I’ve given up desiring love, I long in my poorly-cobbled disappointing shoes to rove these streets I think of as my own to picture her behind one shutter, just a crack ajar, two candles guttering, and her fleshy tight-ringed finger beckoning to me. [‘Fairuz’]
Down these mean streets ….
Not hard to imagine a certain kind of moralist tut-tutting at such “orientalism,” as we have learnt to call it. When found, make a note of, Dickens’s Captain Cuttle would say, though he wouldn’t then conclude that Craik should be dragged before the thought police and asked to account for himself. (Thirty-three was, of course, the age which Christ had reached when he was arraigned before Herod, but I doubt Craik intends an allusion.) Cuttle would be more likely to enjoy – he’d certainly understand – Craik’s note of rueful acquiescence in his role as down-at-mouth-and-heel rover in his far-from suave, poorly-cobbled, disappointing shoes.
America, where for years Craik has earned a living as a university lecturer, is, for all its familiarity, no less exotic, or at all events an experience – a culture – from which the poet feels himself partly estranged. A suitably comic, abashed poem ‘Ulysses in the New World’ reflects how the narrator
used to marvel, stunned, when I was told how Ulysses would ‘goof,’ ‘screw up, and ‘kinda show he had to be the boss – a typical jock,’ as if he’d locked himself out of his car or run out of gas or spilt popcorn on his girl’s jeans the jerk,
before recognising that Ulysses belongs to no one culture, because There never was / an Ithaca or home, but just himself, alone, / shiftless, yet immortal as the stars. The last phrase is a routine bit of cheer-up. The real poem ends on alone, / shiftless. Such words might well form an epigraph for Craik’s collection.
But this is not to say that the poems are in any way self-obsessed, let alone confessional. Craik is saved from the indulgences of soul-baring by his very real delight in the world-out-there which he registers, for example, in ‘Heron’:
thin raincoated William Burroughs of a bird stalking hypodermically toe-deep in shingle or shallows of a stream. But on wing, shouldering off with six great languid flaps all birdbook posturing, you rise magisterial
‘Magisterial’ is a near-lapse into cliché, although I suppose there is the possible justification of a nod toward some gowned magistrate – the “beak” (ha!); but anyway much can be forgiven of the writer who compares a heron to a raincoated William Burroughs. As it can of the lovely, funny poem in celebration of a grandfather remembered for his prowess at farting. Warned by his mother not to laugh, because ‘this is how older people get –/ you’ll be like this yourself, some day’ / ‘Oh, I do hope so’ the boy replies, and rejoices in the old man’s unembarrassed dismissal of his fart – Get out, you pay no rent!
Memories of home aren’t always so reassuring. Home is the past and, like the places you travel to, can be known only as you appraise it from a distance that it is both physical and emotional. One of the best poems in the collection – all the more powerful for its understatement, its readiness to rest in implication – is ‘First Journey’: As inch by inch the train pulled out / with me inside alone, it begins, with the boy noting his parents as they wave farewell from the platform and, through the glass, watches with a kind of blank detachment his father run alongside until the train leaves the station. The poem ends, powerfully, bleakly, heart-tuggingly, with the boy now seeing in his mind’s eye the father running beyond the platform’s end on stony ground, on straggling grass,/ outdistanced, and outdistanced further still.
Buffalo: Blazevox Books, 2015. 54 pp. $12, paper.
Failure is a perception that is essentially personal. One person's failure can be another's achievement, and failure implies blame, that there is something or someone faulty that did not result in a desired outcome. Lyric is a word that implies emotionally-charged language. Put the two together, and Failure Lyric is the result, a fractured and blistering portrayal of a broken relationship.
The book tells the non-linear "story" of a failed relationship, one that seems doomed and distant from its inception. The speaker is never at ease, even at the very beginning. In the poem [First Failures], the speaker relates this story:
"When we met, by a silver lake at the end of summer, I knew you were looking over my
shoulder, trying to find the woman who would fall in love with you."
"You waited and waited, but the woman never arrived. I just sat there next to the
refreshments, my best dress already out of fashion."
All the poem titles in the book are bracketed, which fittingly mimics the presentation of the speaker as an observer in this narrative, an afterthought to the siginificant other more than a presence. The book opens with an erasure called [Preface], which starts with the line "The story can't begin," telling the reader from the start that this story will not unravel in a way that we expect.
The headnote to William Rankine's Radical Cartography website comes from Jean Baudrillard. “It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire but our own: The desert of the real itself.” Scott Abels inhabits vestiges that include Mexico, Hawai`i, and Nebraska. Their landscapes are very different, but Abels is more interested in their parallel dysfunctions. The boys who lose arms on Mexican trains join missing hands with the unemployed in the American Midwest. “We can depend upon the land. / But we cannot depend on jobs.” He codes his family history with symptoms (e.g., Rx = prescription drugs; SRP = Strong Religious Preference). Not that everything is hopeless, as Abels remarks with a wryness worthy of strong whiskey: “Happy journey, / Everybody. / We had medical care, / and Coca-Cola / has reached us here.” This is global capital's family tree, whose diagnosis is dire. But Abels's prescription makes the desert of the real a carnival. It's a “Dick Cheney Parade,” and Christopher Columbus shits bricks. Given an oil spill or other disaster, “Whoever owns it / is lord of all he wants.”Read more »