Hello again out there. Recently, I talked about wanting to “shine a light” on the work of other writers, and in this vein I’m happy to post this interview (full disclosure: it’s an electronic interview in the form of an e-mail exchange) with Kristina Marie Darling, co-author with Carol Guess, of X Marks the Dress: A Registry.
Since reading Kristina’s lyric essay Melancholia: An Essay, I’ve been intrigued by her use of inventive forms — footnotes, appendices, and this time a bridal registry, more appendices, and erasure — to forge new poetic ground. I was especially interested in talking to Kristina about the process of collaboration, and you’ll see that many of my questions revolve around that topic. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kristina Marie Darling:
MS: How did you and Carol Guess come to work on this collaborative project?
KMD: I’ve always admired Carol’s work. I even reviewed her book, Tinderbox Lawn, for Galatea Resurrects: A Poetry Engagement. When my lyric essay, Melancholia (An Essay), was published, I emailed Carol as part of my efforts to promote the book and discovered that the admiration that I had for Carol’s work was mutual. I was thrilled. Shortly after that, Carol and I did a book trade by mail. That was the beginning of a great conversation, and I’m so glad that I reached out.
Carol had just finished a collaboration with Daniela Olszewska, and we started discussing the possibility of working on a project together. I had collaborated with a visual artist before, but never with a writer. Give the admiration I had for Carol’s work, and the possibility of trying something new with my own poetry, I welcomed the opportunity. With that in mind, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to reach out to other poets, artists, and creative people. A single email message can lead to unexpected friendships, conversations, and opportunities.
MS: Did you begin with the idea of a book in mind, or did you undertake the collaboration in a more open-ended way?
KMD: When we started the project, we were definitely working on the level of individual poems. But it gained momentum quickly, and soon we were adding to the manuscript on a daily basis. I’d never experienced this kind of creative momentum before collaborating. As the manuscript grew, we started looking at it as a book, rather than a set of individual poems, and we began thinking about how to structure the project. Once we had finished the first section, Carol and I made a tentative plan for how the rest of the book would unfold. But I learned that it’s important to be open-minded in a collaboration. You never know what your collaborator is going to write, so you find inspiration at the most unexpected moments. You may find yourself wanting to try something new, exciting, and challenging at any time.
MS: How did you come to your subject? In other words, did you and Carol choose the subject at the outset, or did the subject evolve out of the collaborative work?
KMD: The first thing that Carol and I decided on were characters and their voices. Carol wrote as the husband, and I played the part of the wife. The subject of weddings emerged as part of our discussions about structure. The theme of the wedding registry allowed us to organize what we had already written, and to lend unity to the different voices that had begun to inhabit the manuscript.
MS: What were the nuts and bolts of your collaborative process? (e.g. did you draft each poem collaboratively? What were the logistics of the work? etc.)
KMD: That’s a great question. The first section of the book consists of linked prose poems, so for this part of the manuscript, Carol and I were each in charge of one character’s voice. Carol would write a poem in the voice of the husband, then I’d respond in the voice of the wife. Midway through this section, we introduced a mistress character. I’ll let that part of the book remain a mystery.
After the first section had been drafted, Carol and I were each in charge of one of the appendices to the main text. Once we had completed our respective additions to the manuscript, we erased each other’s poems from last section. These erasures comprise the final appendix to the work.
MS: What was the revision process like in your collaboration?
KMD: We discussed all major decisions regarding the structure of the manuscript, and agreed on them before making those types of revisions. But when it came to line edits, we mostly revised our pieces and our appendices on an individual level. I would tweak my poems, and Carol would tweak hers. Although we consider everything in the book to be collaborative, this revision process worked well, since we could each make our contribution to the project exactly what we wanted it to be.
MS: Were there ever points of disagreement regarding artistic choices, and if yes, how did you resolve them?
KMD: There were never any disagreements. Carol was wonderful to work with. She’s friendly, polite, professional – everything I could ask for in a collaborator. And I was really grateful to be able to learn from a writer as experienced as she is. I feel like she taught me so much about how to structure a book-length project, and showed me how to build a compelling narrative. Carol and I had never met before starting the collaboration, so I was delighted that we worked so well together.
MS: I noticed that many of the poems, particularly those in the first section, use syntactical patterns and forms similar to come of your previous work. What was it like to bring this established voice into a collaboration?
KMD: When collaborating, it’s important to respond to your collaborator, and to accommodate his or her voice. But it’s also imperative that you maintain some degree of artistic autonomy. So you have to strike a really delicate balance. You don’t want to distract the reader from what your collaborator is doing, or clash with or her aesthetic. But it’s also important to maintain a sense of your own identity. Most importantly, though, collaboration can be great way to discover new contexts for your existing style of writing, and to expand what’s possible within an established voice.
MS: What advice do you have for poets who are considering a collaborative project?
KMD: First and foremost, don’t let the rest of the world discourage you. Some people will tell you that collaborative writing is hard to publish, so don’t do it. I say don’t let those people stop you. Carol and I were surprised and delighted by the positive response to our collaboration when we started sending work to journals. It took less than a month for us to find a publisher for the manuscript. We were both thrilled to work with a press as wonderful and reputable as Gold Wake Press. But most importantly, I now consider Carol to be a good friend and mentor. I wouldn’t have any of these things if I let people discourage me. Collaboration, for me, has been a truly rewarding experience and I’d certainly recommend it to other poets, artists, and creative people.
I’m grateful to Kristina for taking the time to answer these questions. If you’d like to know more about the authors, Kristina’s website is here and Carol’s is here. To buy the book, go here or click on the cover image above.