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Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of twelve books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and (with Carol Guess) X Marks the Dress: A Registry (Gold Wake Press, 2013). Her work has been honored with fellowships from Yaddo, the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. Kristina is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Poetics at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo, where she holds a Presidential Fellowship.


The book has a perennial quality, meaning absorbing the text is not a linear task; it's a never-ending flipping of pages both forward and backward, which makes for a unique and engaging reading experience.

– Split Lip Magazine

Vow is a truly enjoyable collection, one in which a continuous re-reading will beg more questions and the search within ourselves for the answers.

– The California Journal of Women Writers

Darling’s poetry and prose exposes the frailty of love, and marriage, but moreover of women’s moves towards liberation both within and outside of those contexts.

– The Rumpus

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An Interview with Kristina Marie Darling


Leah Umansky: Reading Vow, is like peering into someone’s secret past. A woman is said to be married. Her fiancé dies. She is left, bereft and almost-helpless. It reminds me much of Jane Eyre (for what would Jane be without her Rochester?). On the other hand, it reminds me of Charlotte Bronte herself and the way the Bronte Parsonage was both her home and her fortress. She died soon after she was married, too. With this said, how does your poetry lend itself to allusions? Do you find these books and stories are intrinsic to your life as a writer, or do you seek out these connections?

Kristina Marie Darling: That's a great question. Most of my poems arise out of my life as a reader. I've always been intrigued by Marianne Moore's use of the term "conversity," a word she coined to describe the dialogic nature of poetry. With that in mind, I envision my poems as a response to the work that came before my own. By that I don't just mean poetry, but also fiction, visual art, and literary theory. I've always thought it was the writer's job to not only revise and modify earlier texts, but to forge connections between different texts. With Vow, I definitely sought to explore the relevance of these nineteenth century women's texts to contemporary debates about language, gender and received literary forms.

For me, Vow represents a corrective gesture. In much of nineteenth century literary culture, women's writing occupied a marginal space. For example, the sketchbook - which consisted of songs, notes, poems, diary entries, and a mixture of many other types of writing -- was considered a predominantly female literary form. More often than not, literary forms that were marked as female were relegated to a private space. When writing Vow, I was interested in taking this marginal space, which women's writing so often occupied, and making it a focal point.

LU: I’m interested in the speaker of these poems. I know you just founded your own feminist press, Noctury Press, so I know you have a clear relationship to gender in writing. What is her connection to the self? She’s strong, yet impressionable. She wants answers. She wants direction. She wants. What governs her? Is it desire? Is it loneliness? Is it the story inside being the bride? Women are expected to be so many different roles, besides being a woman.

For example: She “doesn’t know how” to use her wings.

                        She “doesn’t know how” to wear the dress.

                        She tries “ascending,” but says “it’s hard to know.”

                        She says,“a locked room, but what else?”

KMD: I'm very interested in the notion of the palimpsest, a text that is written, erased, and written over again and again. This is exactly how I envisioned the speaker of the poems in Vow.  She is inscribed and reinscribed with many different roles, expectations, and normative ideas about gender. These range from the complex culture surrounding weddings -- the white dress, the ceremony, and the other accompanying rituals -- to the myriad beliefs about what a wife should be, and what constitutes failure as a wife. The speaker of these poems definitely feels that she has failed as a wife, and as a result, she has been buried alive by the many normative ideas about marriage that have been inscribed onto her. She is motivated by the desire to erase this palimpsest, and find out what's underneath the words and beliefs others have imposed upon her marriage and her identity. With that said, she is also interested in carefully documenting everything, for herself and for other women in her position.

LU: Also, why is the speaker so compelled to the “other” versions of herself. First, these versions are human: “I dream another me exists in the burning house, reading aloud from what I have written” (16). Then non-human and storied: “I am a broken mirror. Shattered glass. . . . But somehow in the dream I’ve grown wings. Tell me, does this change everything" (21)?

KMD: When writing Vow, I was very interested in the instability of the individual self. For me, this question is inextricable from the other concerns that the book addresses -- questions about gender, identity, and marginal spaces. Throughout the collection, the speaker of the poems is haunted by other potential or possible versions of herself, that for one reason or another, were never fully realized. I was very interested in exploring why some of these possible selves remained mere possibilities, relegated in the end to marginal spaces. In the examples you cite, the speaker has been unable to actualize these truer versions of her identity, because they remain incongruous with the rhetoric surrounding marriage, womanhood, and femininity. 

LU: With that said, there is also a modern spin in this book, especially in how the speaker discusses film, which is clearly an anachronism.  Why does she focus on films?  Are films something you think about a lot as a writer. (Films are one of my favorite things next to books because they too are a story). She says, “In a film version of this story, I wandered a corridor filled with locked rooms:  endless foyers, a nursery, the master suite” (14).

KMD: Is it connected to the story we tell ourselves. The way we long for the movie version of life -- the costumes, the soundtrack and love in its the purest, unadulterated love. What is your favorite movie? What do you imagine would be the speaker’s favorite movie?

You're absolutely right that the films the speaker imagines in the book are "movie versions of life." I thought of the films that the heroine imagined as a kind of daydream. I'm fascinated by dreams that function as projections -- of emotions, of personal identity, relationships, or interior transformations that often go unnoticed by others.  I'm very interested in how individuals choose to represent purely interior events, often completely intangible and abstract in nature, through concrete visual means. More often than not, the laws of physics or time no longer hold, as this is what feels most true to the experience. In this respect, the work of dreams and film is much like the work of poetry.

With that in mind, I think the speaker's favorite movie would likely be What Dreams May Come. My favorite, however, will always be The Royal Tenenbaums.

LU: I LOVE THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS!! Okay, let’s detour into literary theory, something I rarely say, but I feel Vow has a sort of voyeuristic element to it, in which the reader watches this woman deal with grief and loss. She sees herself. I see myself, and it makes me remember learning about Laura Mulvey’s feminist film theory and her focus on “the male gaze.” Here, this speaker, this woman, is someone to feel sympathetic towards, but she can also be argued as being a spectacle, or an object of desire for the opposite sex.  Do you see a connection to Mulvey at all ?

KMD: Yes, absolutely. But I was also heavily influenced by feminist models of psychoanalysis, particularly those that seek to create a more egalitarian model of psychoanalysis. I think that, in addition to being seen as an object of desire by others, the woman in the poems is experiencing herself as another. And for her, this ability to see herself from another's perspective becomes a tremendous source of insight and personal transformation. Sigmund Freud described the mind as a text, and for him, the process of analyzing the patient was like literary interpretation. The speaker of the poems in Vow seeks to take power from the hands of others who seek to interpret her grief, her femininity, and her trauma, and become both analyst and analysand.

LU: Every story is based on another story. This is a vow us writers secretly take. We may not be aware but in every story lies archetypes of another. In Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry, a fantastical story about love, loss and myth, she discusses fate: “perhaps I could’ve changed our fate, for fate may hang on any moment and at any       moment be changed. I should have killed her and found us a different story” (7). Would your speaker have changed her fate if she could? Would she lived a different story? So much of our life as women is dictated, but the power we have is in choosing. Every decision opens a door, or room. In every decision, we take a vow.

KMD: I love this question. In spite of the book's feminist stance, and my interest in received literary forms, language, and gender, I don't think that a different narrative arc would solve the speaker's problems. I say this because the traditional roles of wife, mother, and bride are so inscribed into the culture, that women are still haunted by them. Even if the speaker had taken a path of resistance, she would have still been plagued by other possible selves. What if she had acquiesced to the demands of culture? Would she be happier? There's only so much an individual can do. At some point the culture needs to change as well.

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