Millicent Bórges Accardi, Interviews Editor
Reviews have made me a better writer, one who is more articulate about her own practice. Poetry is a conversation, and your book is just the beginning.
The author of over twenty books, including Melancholia (An Essay), Petrarchan and a hybrid genre collection called Fortress, as well as a collaboration poetry book with Carol Guess about bridal registries called X Marks the Dress, Kristina Marie Darling is one of the most prolific writers in the 21st century.
Darling’s awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Poetics at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo.
Millicent Bórges Accardi: Erin Elizabeth Smith (director of Sundress Academy in Knoxville) in an Amazon review calls X Marks the Dress, “a narrative of love and identity that unpacks itself again and again. . .Lines and images reappear in new and surprising ways—footnotes, appendices, definitions—that stunningly illustrate exactly how slippery love can be.”
Where did you come up with the inspiration for this poetry collection?
Kristina Marie Darling: My collaborator, Carol Guess, was the mastermind. She had the brilliant idea of structuring the book around the idea of a bridal registry, with each poem named for a domestic object. We wrote the poems in call and response style, with Carol starting us off, and then I responded to her work, and so on. Carol assumed the voice of the husband, and I was the wife. As we worked, the book went in many unexpected directions. For example, the husband realized that he was really a woman. But things didn't become really wild until we introduced a mistress into the narrative....
Your girlfriend licks sugar off the rim of a crystal shot glass. What happens to the wedding gifts if a marriage dissolves? Before, it was easy to send thank you notes: white scented paper, matching envelopes, & dark green ink. But now you’re changing in the bathroom, unbuttoning the shirt I bought for you at some Labor Day sale. Soon I see you all pale blue in someone else’s designer dress. I’ve undone the little clasp on my purse, searching for gift receipts. Sweetheart, your new bride is waiting in her mud-stained car. The husband I remember wouldn’t look back.
MBA: X Marks the Dress is a niche market book which I think could straddle the poetry world and a general audience. For example, I can see brides getting that book at showers or women giving it as gifts before a wedding. Have you experienced cross-over readers?
KMD: Carol and I were amused when the book hit #1 on the Amazon.com Bestselling New Releases for books about bridal gowns.
KMD: More than anything, I learned a lot about how to structure a narrative. Carol is a gifted poet, but also an experienced fiction writer.
Working with Carol helped me see that's it's possible to create a beautiful narrative arc, while at the same time, interrogating received modes of thinking and writing. This idea of simultaneously inhabiting and thinking critically about received narrative structures was transformative for me. If left to my own devices, I would have likely eschewed narrative altogether, creating something much more fragmented. But Carol helped me see the importance of evoking narrative conventions, creating the suggestion of a narrative, so that one may question, revise, and undermine those same literary devices.
MBA: Can you describe how the collaboration took place? Did you each write your part or did you work on it together? What was the process?
KMD: For the initial sequence, Carol and I each wrote a poem, then the other person responded, until that part of the book felt finished. Then we each contributed one appendix to the work. This was great because we each brought different strengths to the collaboration. Carol's a gifted flash fiction writer, and I love creating marginalia and fragments. The appendixes allowed us each to showcase some element of craft that we brought to the collaboration. At the very end, we erased each others' poems. Now that's trusting your collaborator!
MBA: Why do you write?
KMD: I write from a desire for social justice and inclusion within the academy. Much of my work utilizes academic forms, such as glossaries, footnotes, and appendixes, which I fill with surprising and wildly unexpected content. What's most surprising about the content that I include in these academic forms of writing is that it's autobiographical. In my opinion, this shouldn't be surprising.
I'm very interested in carving a space for women's lived experience in these academic forms of discourse. My writing is a small effort to make scholarly writing more inclusive and accessible. I hope to show readers that anything is possible within a literary text, no matter what form it takes, or how it appears on the printed page.
MBA: Can you share what you are working on now?
KMD: I'm working on a feminist erasure and excavation of Shakespeare's tragedies. The work focuses on gender violence, and women who meet violent ends, within his plays. I find it troubling that texts that are so canonical, and so present within the public imagination, are filled with horrific acts of violence against women. In many ways, it's texts like these that normalize gender violence.
My new manuscript is partially a critique, and also, an effort to redirect the focus of scholarly inquiry. I'm very interested in using tools specific to poetry to bring overlooked aspects of literary tradition to light. The manuscript is called Women and Ghosts, and hopefully someday it will be done. There are many, many examples to grapple with!
MBA: You have participated in a number of writers residencies. What are some pluses and minuses? At which residency were you most productive?
KMD: Residencies are great for meeting other writers, as well as artists in other disciplines. I would highly recommend residencies to those interested in collaborative writing. I've met many life-long friends and collaborators at places like the Vermont Studio Center, Yaddo, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
While there are many pluses, the minuses are usually the divas. And the individuals who go to residencies to network to an extreme. I once witnessed a hipster poet pester a deathly ill Professor Emeritus from California for a blurb. It wasn't pretty.
MBA: What writers are you reading now?
KMD: I can't wait to get my hands on Donna Stonecipher's new book, The Model City. And I'm excited to read Dawn Lonsinger's Whelm. As the great poet Rob Fitterman once said, "I'm STOKED."
MBA: You publish so frequently: nineteen books in five years? How do you do it? What’s your secret?
KMD: There is no secret, really. I just love what I do. When I start working on a new book project, it just takes over my life. I can't work on (or even think about) anything else until that project is fully realized.
But the real fun begins when the book gets published. I absolutely love promoting my own work, and collections by my authors at Noctuary Press. Lining up reviews and interviews, for me, is nothing but a great excuse to reach out to other members of the poetry community. Through my efforts to promote recent collections, I've met some fascinating, creative, and genuinely nice people. I've made great friends, and even met my mentor, Carol Guess, while promoting a new book. I couldn't imagine my life without a project to work on, or something exciting to promote.
MBA: What poets helped promote you or those you would like to thank?
KMD: I'm glad you asked! I actually became familiar with Anne Champion's work when promoting my book, Melancholia (An Essay).
I read one of her reviews and was just amazed at her insights. I was delighted to find out that she's also a poet, and her work is terrific. Since then, we've collaborated on interviews, book review trades, and several other projects. She's a great supporter of the poetry community, and I would have never reached out to her if it hadn't been for my poetry book.
Also, Carlo Matos (author of Big Bad Asterisk*), and I have done many, many review trades. We initially started corresponding because of our forthcoming books, but now I consider him a friend and a collaborator. Promotional work has given me a reason to reach out to other members of the poetry community, and I'm always grateful for that opportunity.
MBA: You are a true marketing wizard. What advice would you give to other poets about promotion and marketing or the Po-Biz?
KMD: If you want to be reviewed, then read the work of reviewers who are currently publishing. And don't be afraid to reach out to critics whose work you admire. As a reviewer myself, I love hearing from individuals who have read my pieces in Boston Review, Colorado Review, and other journals. And I love free books!
MBA: How important are reviews to poetry books?
KMD: Reviews are very important to my practice as a literary artist. I love being surprised by reviews, especially when a reviewer makes me think about my work in a way I never otherwise would have.
I was initially hesitant to reach out to journals where I've contributed poetry criticism when my own books were published, but writing reviews can be a great way to build relationships with editors and professionals in the literary community. Seeing X Marks the Dress reviewed in Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing was one of the proudest moments in my life as a writer, since Pleiades was one of the first journals I read and admired as a younger poet.
I've been fortunate enough to have been reviewed by several critics who gave me great ideas for future books. J.A. Tyler, in a review in PANK Magazine, said he would love to see a book length engagement with a single form. I took him up on that, and had great fun working on that manuscript. I love when reviewers give me a vocabulary for explaining what my poetry is doing.
Reviews have made me a better writer, one who is more articulate about her own practice. Poetry is a conversation, and your book is just the beginning. Reviews are also great for building community, something that's crucial to my own practice, and to publishing more generally. As an editor, I've been reviews build relationships between presses, magazines, and individuals who otherwise would never cross paths.
MBA: Where are your favorite venues/journals to promote your work and/or to discover new poets and new writing?
KMD: I'm a huge fan of The Rumpus. Their reviews are always thoughtful and engaging, and it's an honor when I see my work reviewed there. They also publish poetry criticism that is almost as enjoyable as the poems themselves. And when my collaboration with Carol Guess was reviewed in The Boston Review, I was delighted. The editor, B.K. Fischer, curates some of the most perceptive and well-written poetry criticism I've ever seen. And if you're interested in discovering new poets and their writing, definitely check out Tupelo Quarterly's new reviews page. I'm currently helping to assign titles and curate reviews. We're striving to offer poetry criticism that is as diverse and enlightening as the creative work published in Tupelo Quarterly. It's an exciting project, and I'm thrilled to be part of it.
KMD: Poetry brings smart, articulate, and creative people together. That's a revolution just waiting to happen!
MBA: You offer writing workshops online, most recently a workshop about how to write persuasive Grants applications. Is there a hot tip you can share with PQ readers?
KMD: As part of the workshop, we'll do an assignment called "Submission Bombing," in which students will prepare and send applications to fellowship and grant opportunities that are interested in receiving applications specifically from our class. For any more details, you'll have to formally register. Despite the practical nature of the workshop, I promise we'll have fun!
MBA: What is the most important responsibility you have as a writer?
KMD: I think that the responsibility depends on the type of writing in question. For poetry criticism, my standard of excellence is usefulness. In other words, does the review or essay help someone better understand the work, or be better equipped to approach it on the first read? For creative endeavors, I'm deeply invested in opening up new possibilities within poetry, and not foreclosing any. Much of my work is an effort to make various forms of writing more inclusive. I believe that anything should be possible within a literary text.
Millicent Borges Accardi is the author of four books: Injuring Eternity, Woman on a Shaky Bridge, Practical Love Poems, and Only More So (forthcoming). She is a recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the arts (NEA), CantoMundo, Fulbright, the California Arts Council, Fundação Luso-Americana (FLAD), and Barbara Deming Foundation. She organizes “Kale Soup for the Soul,” Portuguese-American writers reading work about family, food and culture. Follow her @TopangaHippie.