Reader, it’s raining. They tell me this means winter. It’s 64 degrees right now, so I’m cool with that if rain and 64 = winter. They also tell me it does get “freezing cold” sometimes. You know, like, 40 degrees. Last winter was unseasonally mild here, so I’m curious to see what a real California winter is like.
But I digress because the reason I’m really here today is to say (1) I’m feeling a bit more human after two days of being home and sleeping better. And (2) I read this really awesome book a while back (I think of that period of our lives as Before Abscess 🙂 ) and I wanted to share with you an interview I did with its author, Kristina Marie Darling.
The book is The Moon and Other Inventions: Poems After Joseph Cornell, and here is what Kristina and I talked about via e-mail:
MS: These poems are in response to works by the collagist Joseph Cornell. Tell us, in a general way, how your response to his work led to these poems.
KMD: What I love most about Joseph Cornell’s work is the way that it sparks the viewer’s imagination. When one sees birds, sheet music, and other disparate objects grouped together in a collage, it’s only natural to speculate as to how these items are connected. For me, this invitation to the audience to participate in the work of creating meaning from various ephemera seems especially useful for thinking about poetry. I wanted to translate the spirit of Cornell’s invitation to the audience to make meaning from visual art into literature. I chose the format of the book—in which footnotes are presented to an absent text—as a means to leave room for the reader’s imagination within the work, to allow them to participate in the work of the poet.
MS: The poems themselves can feel a bit like collages – e.g., fragments of speech, repeating images and objects, an unnamed and occasional presence (the “she” of the poems), repeated clusters of the same or similar words. Is this how the poems unfolded during the drafting process – as bits and pieces that coalesced around a thread? If not, what was your process for drafting these poems?
KMD: That’s a great question. Many of the images and objects that populate the poems are taken from Cornell’s work. That’s one of the things that I love about ekphrastic poetry. Visual art is often rich with images, narrative threads, and other material that poets can steal. As I drafted, I carefully chose which of these visual motifs I wanted to emphasize in the poem. Since Cornell’s work is so rich with beautiful images, selection was among the most difficult parts of drafting The Moon & Other Inventions. Even when I knew that a chapter was going to be about birds or clocks, it was always a little bit heartbreaking to leave parts of a Cornell piece unexamined because they didn’t coalesce with the narrative thread I had built.
MS: You’ve really taken ownership of a form built around structural elements of documents: footnotes, appendices, definitions, etc. In the age of texting and Twitter, these structures may seem almost antiquated to some readers. Tell us how you came to write in the space of these structures, and why you felt your poems required these particular forms.
KMD: I’ve often been asked if I’m a burnt out academic, since it looks like that all that’s left of my scholarly voice is the footnotes. But really, I’m drawn to the footnote format because of what it allows me to leave unsaid within a poem. One of my biggest fears in poetry, and reasonably so, I think, is stating something that’s painfully obvious to the reader. I definitely prefer to err on the side of trusting the reader too much, and allowing them to take interpretive liberties with the poem.
I say this because taking interpretive leaps is the best part of being a reader, for me at least. What’s great about the footnote format is that it leaves room for the reader to imagine what they would want to see in that white space where the text should be. There’s something inherently fulfilling about incompleteness, since it allows us to fulfill our wishes by imagining part of the text as we would want to see it be constructed.
MS: I’m fascinated by the unspoken idea of a missing primary text. Do you think about this in relation to your work, and if yes, how does the missing primary text inform these poems?
KMD: This idea of the missing text is definitely something I think about in relation to my poetry. I like to think of my poems as footnotes to an idea of what literature should or ought to be. Often this is the stereotypical novel in all of its excesses. With that in mind, I’ve always been preoccupied with what gets excluded from works that we think of as canonical texts. Even within literary and artistic works, what gets included, what is considered worthwhile or important for the reader, is often a highly political question. I’ve always believed that the most important things are left out. The strange objects that populate everyday life, the ephemera of domestic spaces, and fragments of personal or “private” writings are something I like to situate within the space of the poem, to restore their visibility, if you will.
MS: You chose the following quote by Tom Stoppard as the epigraph for this book: “Truth is the work of the imagination.” Clearly, you wanted the reader to have truth in mind as she encountered your poems. For you, what do these poems say about truth and the search for truth?
KMD: The poems definitely present a subjective, postmodern notion of “truth.” It’s up to the reader to create “meaning” from the work, to imagine what should fill the space of the page. Truth is what the reader wants it to be, so long as it fits within the parameters of the text, its otherworldly objects, and the laws the govern them. What interests me most in this process of creating meaning is the way that readers deal with constraints on what exactly truth can be. There is some freedom for the reader to choose what meaning they see in the text, but to a certain extent, the possibilities have been circumscribed by the poet. I’m intrigued by the extent to which these kind of constraints on what truth can be within a literary text are productive for the imagination. The book is almost like a philosophical experiment, in which we see what kind of truth, and how many different incarnations of truth, emerge for the reader from a strange, limited, and somewhat impossible imagined world.
MS: I’d love to know what you’ve been reading lately, and who some of your influences are.
KMD: I’m a big fan of Sabrina Orah Mark’s poetry, especially her book Tsim Tsum. I’ve also been reading Karen Volkman’s Nomina, Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette, Lisa Jarnot’s Night Scenes, Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s Selenography, Kristin Prevellet’s Perturbation, My Sister, and several friends’ books: Kyle McCord’s Sympathy from the Devil, Joe Hall and Chas Hardy’s The Container Store, and David Hadbawnik’s Field Work.
While I definitely enjoy reading contemporary poetry, I’d have to say my real influences are the Imagists, particularly H.D. I love their notion of the poetic image as an intellectual and emotional complex, which the reader is left to unravel.
Happy Friday, Reader. I hope you have a great weekend and get yourself good and ready to eat a lot of turkey. Stay tuned for:
–how to write when there’s no time to write
–what I learned on 3 South
and more. Thanks for reading.