Kristina Marie Darling is the author of twelve books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and Palimpsest (Patasola Press, 2013). Her writing has been honored with fellowships from the Corporation of Yaddo, the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation.
Carol Guess is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including Tinderbox Lawn, Darling Endangered, andDoll Studies: Forensics. Forthcoming titles include two collaborations: How To Feel Confident With Your Special Talents(co-written with Daniela Olszewska) and X Marks The Dress: A Registry (co-written with Kristina Marie Darling). She is Professor of English at Western Washington University, and lives in Seattle and Bellingham, WA. Visit her online at www.carolguess.blogspot.com
My pink comes from before. Your house breathes faster. Tonight I’ll break your heart and leave you street corner easy: besotted, best beast. I pick you up at 8, a little late for a Coke and a candy apple. Your father waves you off, but he’s misplaced your mother, so she comes, too: curled in the backseat, chignon nonplussed. You’ve brought your favorite dimestore purse, pleather and calico. Pink is learning. The vulgar present is calling. I pull you inside out.
How did your collaboration begin?
Kristina Marie Darling: I had read Carol's work for years, and even reviewed one of her books in Galatea Resurrects. When my book, Melancholia (An Essay), was published, I reached out to Carol to see if she'd be interested in featuring my book on her blog. As it turned out, the admiration I had for Carol's work was mutual. I was thrilled. We did a book trade, and eventually discussed the possibility of collaborating. It started with just a few poems, and I didn't expect our initial exchange to grow into two full-length manuscripts, but I'm so happy that it did. Carol has been such an inspiring collaborator, and I've written some of my best poems in collaboration with her.
Carol Guess: I've admired Kristina's poetry for years, so when she reached out to me, I was thrilled! One of the best things about working with Kristina is her friendly professionalism. From beginning to end, Kristina was encouraging, flexible, and engaged with the project, even when it took strange, unexpected twists and turns. At one point I joked with her that we should run for office as a team -- we just work together seamlessly, and that was true from the beginning.
Have you collaborated before? If so, how was this different than other collaborations?
KMD: I had collaborated once before, with a fashion designer, Max Avi Kaplan. He would craft beautiful objects, and I'd write poems in response to them. Once he even created a pair of turkey feather pumps. They were gorgeous. I found that collaborating with a visual artist afforded me a wonderful vocabulary of images that I had not previously had access to. I was exposed to colors, textures, and material artifacts that eventually found their way into my poems. My collaboration with Carol was different in that we focused more on constructing a narrative, whereas when I worked with Max, we were very interested in creating an atmosphere, which didn't necessarily belong to any overarching story. I definitely learned a great deal from both collaborations, I'm looking forward to working with both Max and Carol again this summer.
CG: My introduction to collaboration came from Daniela Olszewska. We co-wrote a poetry collection, How To Feel Confident With Your Special Talents, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. We co-wrote all of our pieces, each writing half a poem and passing it along. It was a wonderful experience, and opened me up to the idea of future literary collaborations. Kristina and I created organic ways of collaborating that were very different from my process with Daniela. I don't think Kristina and I ever finished each other's work; instead, we wrote call-and-response pieces, one at a time. So each poem or story was written in response to the previous text. I think this is how we created such a strong sense of narrative structure and how we developed our characters through the poems.
What were the rules or parameters for the collaboration?
KMD: One of the things I enjoyed most about our collaboration was the absence of rules. Certainly, one couldn't contribute a poem that didn't fit into the narrative we had created up to that point. But what's really wonderful about collaboration is that it's more spontaneous than writing on one's own. When you're constantly responding to someone else's work, you never know what your collaborator will do. Everything could change in a second, and you have to be ready for it. This feeling of impermanence, transience, and changeability is one of the most enjoyable aspects of collaboration for me.
CG: I agree! Everything felt very spontaneous, and we encouraged each other to take risks with form and content. Kristina's work is rich with detail and mood, and I tried to match some of the atmosphere in my sections. Over time, we created characters who seemed insistent on their own rules, their own parameters. But the two of us stayed open to new ideas and took risks throughout the writing.
Have you collaborated before outside your art form? How did this differ from those collaborations?
KMD: As I mentioned before, I collaborated with a fashion designer, Max Avi Kaplan, and we focused a great deal on creating an atmosphere, a mood. When I collaborated with Carol, we were more interested in creating a compelling story that linked our poems and our individual voices. One of the other differences between the two collaborations had to do with archival material. When I worked with Max, we focused a great deal more on incorporating Victorian material culture, and researched the clothing associated with mourning during this period. This archival material served as the basis for our work together. With Carol, I was excited to step out of my comfort zone a little, and write something much more contemporary. With both collaborations, I felt as though we created an imaginary world, both of which were completely different and reflected the personal aesthetics of the individuals involved in the project.
CG: Kristina, now I want to learn more about your work with Max Avi Kaplan! I've collaborated with a few visual artists in a loose sort of way. I wrote a book based on photographs by Corinne May Botz, and I consider that a form of collaboration. After my father died, I used one of his books, a scientific text, to create a flash fiction collection. I definitely felt that I was collaborating with my father, even after his death, by exploring his ideas about science and ethics.
The introduction to the book mentions a common bias against collaborative work. Was it difficult for you to publish to individual poems?
KMD: I had always heard that there's a bias against collaborative work, and many friends advised me against completing a collaborative manuscript. With that said, I was pleasantly surprised by how much interest there was in our collaboration, and by how welcoming editors were. I would definitely say to anyone reading this not to get discouraged by what you hear about the literary marketplace, since many collaborative poems do find a home.
CG: I agree with Kristina. We had a lot of interest in our manuscript, as well as the individual poems. Future collaborators: don't let anything stop you!
What did you learn from your fellow collaborator?
KMD: Carol and I both brought different strengths to the collaboration. I'm very attentive to detail, whereas Carol is good at looking at the big picture. Through our collaborative process, I feel like I've learned a great deal about how to give structure to a manuscript, and I definitely have Carol to thank for that. I'm looking forward to incorporating some of these strategies in the single author collections I'm currently working on.
CG: Kristina is a brilliant writer; I've learned so much from her. She uses miscellany in really innovative ways, adding footnotes to texts that don't exist; creating lists of imaginary objects and events. I've actually been using this technique a lot in my creative writing classroom. My students are now using footnotes in their stories! I also value Kristina's ability to create a mood through thoughtful sensory detail. Reading her work is like entering a haunted house. Every room feels rich with history.
Did the collaboration affect your own work?
KMD: Before working with Carol, my poetry was filled with Victorian fashion. Our collaboration has definitely inspired me to incorporate more contemporary imagery in my manuscripts, and also to create tension between historical material and references to contemporary culture.
CG: Kristina's use of history (real and imaginary) has definitely seeped into my solo writing projects, which tend to focus on contemporary images and language. I've also found myself inspired by her subversive use of feminine imagery and icons. Her work is full of sensual feminine detail -- lace, silk, perfume -- yet all of it serves a feminist aim. I'm interested in incorporating more high femme gloss into my work!
Did anything happen in your collaboration that surprised you?
KMD: The thing that surprised me most was how quickly the manuscript took shape. Once the collaboration gained momentum, Carol and I added poems almost every day, and were constantly responding to each other's work. I didn't expect to become so engrossed in the imagined world that we had created, but I'm glad it happened this way. We had a lot of fun.
CG: I was startled by the twists and turns of our narrative. We didn't create the characters or plot beforehand; we just wrote to see where our words would take us. We ended up with a very clear narrative trajectory, something I almost never write, so that was lovely and surprising.
How do you feel about the finished product?
KMD: I feel like it's one of the best manuscripts I've ever worked on. I hope you'll check it out!
CG: Agreed! This is one of my favorite manuscripts and definitely one of the most innovative. Thanks so much for interviewing us. We look forward to hearing from readers about their responses to both our process and the finished text.