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Kristina Marie Darling interviewed at The Critical Flame

 Gaudy and DarlingMolly Gaudry (L) and Kristina Marie Darling (R)

Molly Gaudry
 was shortlisted for the 2011 PEN/Joyce Osterweil for her first verse novel, We Take Me Apart, which was also finalist for the Asian American Literary Prize for Poetry. Richard Garcia wrote of her debut, “The ordinary becomes mythical…and simple lines or sentences ring with ominous music,” and Brian Evenson writes, “Gaudry’s Beckettian narrative sews bright bits to near-faint whispers, slowly swaddling us in quiet and darkness.” Its companion novel, Desire: A Haunting, will be released in December 2015 from Ampersand Books. Gaudry is a faculty member at the Yale Writers’ Conference and the Creative Director at The Lit Pub.

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of over twenty collections of poetry and hybrid prose. A poet, fiction writer, and critic whose writing has been called “singularly graceful and stunningly incisive explorations of poetic insight” (Zach Savich), her work has been reviewed in numerous literary magazines including The Iowa ReviewPloughshares, and Boston Review. Darling holds an MA in Philosophy and is currently a Presidential Fellow and Gender Institute Dissertation Fellow at SUNY-Buffalo for a PhD in English Literature.

Darling and Gaudry corresponded over the summer of 2015, discussing their current and forthcoming work, violence and literature, how an author’s identity can haunt their writing, collaboration with visual artists, and more.

Kristina Marie DarlingDesire: A Haunting is formally adventurous, offering readers white space, lyric fragments, and beautiful fractures. Tell me about your process. How did that spare, very poetic form emerge? Were form and narrative linked from the beginning?


Molly Gaudry: It took me over a year and a half, after the story was written, to find the form for Desire. Initially, it mimicked my first book, We Take Me Apart, in which the narrator’s lines break syntactically. Her daughter, the narrator of Desire, sounds like her in this way, but her lines don’t break on breaths—they break on long stretches of silence. And these silences, visible, draw attention to absence and ghostliness; they perform on my narrator’s behalf the sadness of not just herself but also her voice being erased from memory.

So now I’ll flip the question around and ask you about your process and what generated the idea for Women and Ghosts.


KMD: When I first started drafting Women and Ghosts, I was thinking a lot about the idea of textual violence and more specifically, the extent to which reading from a place of privilege can become an act of violence. As a young female writer, I can say this type of violence has certainly happened to some of my poems. An older male writer, much more established than myself, once blacked out my manuscript, wrote sexually explicit things on the work, and sent it to me in the mail. While this individual clearly doesn’t represent all older, established male writers, I do view this as instance of textual violence, especially because an imbalance of power was at play.

When drafting the memoir, I wanted to explore the ways that violence (textual and otherwise) can give rise to self-destructive impulses. In other words, how does erasure of one’s labor, one’s voice, and one’s intentions give rise to self-erasure? Can self-awareness and awareness of this cultural machinery help one reclaim one’s voice? I hope these concerns come through in the formal choices I’ve made. The book makes use of self-erasure and footnotes, as well as grayscale and erasures of Shakespeare’s tragedies (particularly Hamlet).  I’m intrigued by the idea that form and the visual appearance of a poem, essay, or story can be politically charged, perhaps just as meaningful as the text itself.

I’m also deeply invested in the idea of erasure as excavation, an effort to redirect the reader’s focus and prompt them to attend to something they wouldn’t ordinarily notice. I trust that the erasures prompt the reader to confront gendered violence and the erasure of women’s voices, as violence and erasure occur in some of the most canonical texts. To consider the myriad ways that literature shapes the cultural imagination. To spark a larger conversation about ethical reading practices.


MG: Did Jen Bervin’s Nets have any influence on Women and Ghosts? Or if not, what authors and books did?


KMD: I think my process was actually a lot like yours: that the story for Desire was finished, but you continued to search for a form, a vehicle for the story that would do justice to your ideas. I finished much of the text for Women and Ghosts, but it felt disconnected, as though it were merely a collection of separate essays. While at a residency in Wyoming, I showed my work to the wonderfully talented Phil Zimmerman, a book artist, who suggested that I use the visual presentation of the work, and various typographical treatments, to unify the disparate ideas in the collection. After my discussion with Phil, I had a breakthrough, and was able to revise the draft so that it felt more cohesive, more unified.

As I revised, I looked at many examples of texts that use the space of the page as a visual field. You’re absolutely right that Jen Bervin was hugely influential for me. Her work prompted me to consider the ways a text, and more specifically, an erasure, is haunted by its source materials. Every text is haunted by a deeply problematic and ethically fraught literary inheritance. Even more importantly, Bervin prompted me to think about what it means to haunt a text myself. As a woman inhabiting a predominately male literary cannon, am I uninvited guest, rustling through a dim corridor in my white dress?  What does it mean to haunt one’s own texts? Can different parts of the self or parts of consciousness exist in dialogue with each other in the same rhetorical space? As I considered these questions and many others, I also looked at Ronald Johnson’s Radi Os, Janet Holmes’ The Ms of My Kin, and of course, Yedda Morrison’s Darkness, all of which use the space of the page differently, allowing white space to signify absence and presence, violence and respite.

I’d love to hear more about the visually arresting presentation of your work in Desire. To what extent is writing always visual in nature, even when we don’t fully recognize it?


MG: I really love your question: “What does it mean to haunt one’s own texts?” This summer, suddenly and unexpectedly, I finished a close-to-final draft of the third book in the series, Fit Into Me, a lyric memoir about reading, writing, love, and sex. It wasn’t until I had a clearer understanding of the larger scale concerns of Fit that I realized just how much of myself I had put into Desire. Dog’s willful denial of the violence in her past is my own. Her silence—I think she keeps it for me. Her own broken vocal cords and William’s cut neck, the broken-necked flowers in We Take Me Apart that dog’s mother sews back together after a storm—these aren’t just gory details. Writing Fit, I came to better understand why I was so insistent on the achronology of Desire, why I fought so hard to have Parts One and Two follow chronologically but Part Three exist entirely in flashback. Desire ends in memory, picks up where We Take Me Apart leaves off. Desire ends in the unspeakable past. I guess it makes more sense to me, even now, why it took so long for me to find the right form for Desire. All that unvoiced pain, visible on the page and breaking, breaking, breaking.

What about your decision in Women and Ghosts to use grayscale as well as strike-through to create the erasures? Is it a double erasure? Or a move that makes the invisible actually more visible?

Read the Whole conversation here

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Patient Women by Larissa Shmailo Reviewed in Books for Readers #179

 Hurray and congrats to Larissa Shmailo, her new novel Patient Women was reviewed in Books for Readers #179. Here is an extract:

Probably the biggest surprise of my summer reading was Patient Women by Larissa Shmailo. Shmailo is a highly accomplished poet, editor, and translator (see my review of her poetry in Issue # 169) . She does a lot of so-called "mixed" media, and she blogs at larissashmailo.blogspot.com. She is productive and successful, and lives a rich life in the arts. 

She is also a survivor and child of survivors, and in her new novel Patient Women, she fictionalizes pieces of her life and recreates passages from her parents' lives as well as creating searing poems ostensibly written by her character Nora Nader.

There is plenty of recreational sex and drugs and drinking and also sex work, and brilliant recreations of the downtown milieu of New York City in the nineteen seventies. Much, much sensation and despair and struggle. There are whorehouse discussions during down time about what you want in an ideal client, and there are stunning shocks: at one point, Nora finally finds a man who has potential as a long term partner. They marry-- and he drowns on their honeymoon. 

Nora's life is out of control, but the novel is completely in the novelist's control. In her great confidence in her own powers, Shmailo moves towards the end out of the straight narrative into a series of experiments in story telling and genre. 

The bulk of the book is the grim narrative of Nora's dive into the lower depths and her grumbling return to sobriety through the efforts of a saintly trans friend who is dying of AIDS. Then, Nora begins to press her mother to repeat and explain family stories of their time in concentration camps under the Nazis: how they survived intact. She includes her mother's stories as free-standing short works, and it becomes increasingly clear that the family was not intact at all. The stories throw Nora into a near psychotic state of remembering that seems like too much for one person to bear. She says goodbye to Chrisis, her dying sobriety sponsor. She gives support to a dying stranger, money to a beggar. She notices that the world is still around her. And then come the poems, which act both as a reprise of the themes and events of the novel and also also as unnarrated evidence of Nora's talent and hopeful future. It is a gamble, to end a novel with so many passages in a different genre, but it pays off beautifully: Nora doesn't forget, perhaps doesn't even move on completely, but she can be with people. She can create.

Read the whole issue here! 

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Grace C. Ocasio’s The Speed of Our Lives reviewed in Blind Beggar Press’s newsletter The Lantern.

Grace C. Ocasio’s The Speed of Our Lives reviewed in Blind Beggar Press’s newsletter The Lantern.

Grace C. Ocasio is a former New Yorker now living in Charlotte, NC. Her poetry collection, The Speed of Our Lives, is an exceptional example of fine poetry. It’s thoughtful, intelligent and consistently engaging. Her diverse range of subject matter- Angela David, Greta Garbo, the city of Charlotte, Anne Frank, bible characters and so much more – demonstrate her world view and keeps the reader fascinated to read more. She has a way with words that is personal yet universally understood and it is difficult to put her book down. Hers is a unique voice that needs to be heard.

Reviewed by C. D. Grant

Investigate Grace C. Ocasio’s The Speed of Our Lives

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Failure Lyric by Kristina Marie Darling reviewed


Kristina Marie Darling's Failure Lyric 

Kristina Marie Darling released her book Failure Lyric with BlazeVox Books earlier this year. Like Darling’s previous texts, Failure Lyric explores many relevant and emotionally evocative experiences. The most prevalent themes include the futility of romance, marriage and its many betrayals. Recurring images of the winter season, shattered glass, flowers and dead girls are expertly woven throughout the book, providing a cohesive narrative that exists seamlessly alongside a lyrical succession of images. We witness what it is to be a woman covered by the shadow of a man and a subversion of a misogynistic society while being trapped inside of it. Necessarily, there also exists a subdued feminist sensibility which aims to un-stifle the book’s narrator as she responds to her environment. This narrator, for obvious reasons is one which the majority of women can relate to.

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Kristina Marie Darling interviewed by Andre Blythe


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.

Kristina Marie Darling

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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