Inside this week’s Grab Bag, we have an interview with Kristina Marie Darling, in which we discuss her poetry collection Fortress (read my review Fortress here). Darling is the author of over twenty collections of poetry and hybrid prose. Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the American Academy in Rome, as well as grants from the Elizabeth George Foundation, Harvard University’s Kittredge Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation Archive Center. 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.
1. In your TNB Self-Interview, you say that you “erase pain from” Scarry’s The Body in Pain. Can you elaborate on your interaction with the text throughout the writing process?
While drafting Fortress, I was inspired by many recent procedural erasure projects by innovative women poets. I had just read Yedda Morrison’s Darkness, for example, which is an erasure of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. She removes people from the book, and this procedure she has created (in which she consistently removes specific elements of the source text), functions as a critique of or commentary on the original narrative. Darkness is, after all, an ecopoetics, a mediation on the natural world. This is something that we tend to neglect when reading Heart of Darkness, and Morrison’s procedural erasure serves to refocus the reader’s attention, bringing to light ethical questions, images, and pieces of language that would otherwise be buried in the plot-driven prose of the novel.
With Fortress, I wanted to do something similar as I engaged Scarry’s book, using erasure as a means by which to refocus readerly attention. I erased passages that depicted human suffering from the book, calling the reader’s attention instead to the most lyrical moments in Scarry’s original work: a blue thread, a fragile arc, hands placed on a piano as though it were another form of breathing. By excavating moments of beauty from Scarry’s prose, I hoped to call the reader’s attention to moments where redemption becomes possible.
2. One thing I found really compelling about your collection was your unconventional use of whitespace and footnotes. What is your conception of the field of the page? Did that evolve or shift as you wrote Fortress?
At the time I wrote Fortress, I was fascinated by literary texts in which women’s voices exist in marginal spaces. Jenny Boully’s The Body: An Essay is a prime example of this, where we are presented with footnotes to what seem at first like empty pages. I was intrigued by this idea of redefining what is possible within the marginal spaces of a text. Here we don’t have the pressure of sustaining the main text, and narratives can be elliptical, fragmented, or purposefully incomplete. The marginal spaces in a book become a place of freedom, experimentation, and possibility. Additionally, this focus on marginal spaces speaks to the hierarchies we impose upon various components of a text (i.e., the main text is supposedly the more important, marginal notes being seen as ancillary, tangential). As a feminist writer, I’m deeply invested in rendering the reader suddenly aware of these hierarchies, and of course, subverting them, questioning and interrogating the ways in which we assign value to language.
3. In a somewhat related question, I want to talk a bit about the tactile nature of the book—its physical shape and feel. Were these conscious choices, or were they necessitated by your unconventional use of the field of the page? How do you feel that the tactile nature of Fortress interacts with or informs the way the collection is read?
That’s a great question. I’ve always believed that the book’s design elements, and the way that it manifests as a physical object, are extension of the content, an undeniable part of the work itself. I like to be very involved in the design of my books, choosing cover artwork, the book size, etc. As a small press publisher, I’ve come to realize just how much visual and design elements change our experience of a text. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked on a book for my small press, Noctuary Press, and said to myself, “Wow, this book is completely different in Garamond!” With that said, one of the great advantages of working with a range of publishers is that each press brings something unique to the table. While working with Sundress Publications, I was blown away by their creativity. I would have never thought to make the book a perfect square, but it really heightened the impact of the white space, the blankness of the page. Clearly my book was in good hands with them!
4. Finally, can you tell me a bit about your current project?
I’m preparing to release some new titles from my small press, Noctuary Press, which include Carrie Olivia Adams’ Operating Theater and Emma Bolden’s medi(t)ations. I just finished a rather ambitious erasure of Hamlet, which is forthcoming from BlazeVOX Books later this year. At the moment I’m working on a collaboration with another poet, which centers around the idea of landscape. Stay tuned for details!
(Interview conducted by Ostrich managing editor Danielle Grimes Sutton.)