Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of thirty-nine books. An expert consultant with the United States Fulbright Commission, a twice-awarded Fulbright Scholar, and a member of the peer review panel for Fulbright grants, Dr. Darling’s work has also been recognized with three residencies at Yaddo, where she has held the Martha Walsh Pulver Residency for a Poet and the Howard Moss Residency in Poetry, a Civita Institute Fellowship, and nine residencies at the American Academy in Rome, where she previously served as an ambassador for recruitment. Currently a faculty member at The Los Angeles Review of Books Publishing Workshop, she has taught (or is scheduled to teach) at Yale University, the American University in Rome, Stanford University, and the New School. Dr. Darling is Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Press & Tupelo Quarterly. Born and raised in the American Midwest, she now divides her time between the United States, Greece, and the Amalfi Coast.

What excites you about writing? How has it affected your life?

When I attended an artist residency for the first time, it was a life-changing experience for me. To be in a place where creative expression is the norm, where artists are the majority and where they are held accountable for making work—this transformed my thinking about what it means to be a practicing artist. For me, part of the work of making art is conversation, dialogue, and exchange. It’s having one’s boundaries pushed and challenged and being made to think through one’s own aesthetic after encountering art that’s wildly divergent from one’s own. The most difficult conversations have offered the greatest rewards—and challenges—when attempting to articulate and justify my own artistic practice. As a teacher, my approach centers community and foregrounds the tools for finding it. I enjoy helping advisees connect with an appreciative audience, discover their readership, and importantly, build a lasting sense of community around their work.

What mindset does a writer need to continue to grow and learn? 

One of the most common misconceptions among writers is that curatorial work, and being part of a community in general, takes time away from one’s own creative practice. I’ve found that the opposite is true—participating in a community, editing magazines, reading submissions, and seeing what other writers are working on, feeds my creative work like nothing else. For example, when I first started my small press, Noctuary Press, as a grad student at SUNY Buffalo, I decided to focus the publishing project’s efforts on bringing visibility to writing by women that exists across, in spite of, and beyond genre boundaries. At the time, I thought hybrid writing by women was one thing—that it behaved in a particular way on the printed page. But as I curated the press’s offerings, I saw, for the first time, the multiplicity and diversity inherent in women’s experimental prose writing. Reading and advocating for poetry by other women and non-binary people has expanded my sense of what is possible in my own creative writing. I can’t tell you how many times I read a manuscript submission, or assessed a review copy, and said to myself, “I didn’t know a writer could do that!” or “I didn’t realize it was possible to inhabit language in such a way!”

For me, the writings of others are the starting point for a conversation, and all of poetry is an inherently dialogic act. Which reminds me—there’s a wonderful book by Adriana Cavarero called For More Than One Voice: A Philosophy of Vocal Expression. In this book, she argues that it’s impossible to speak without something to respond to. She says that all of speech is a communal endeavor, as we’re always drawing inspiration from, appropriating from, and inhabiting a shared cultural imagination, a common repertoire of images, archetypes, and rhetorics. I believe this is true, that the voice is a social construct, and the words of others live with us even in our most solitary moments.

With poetry especially, we’re always refining, revising, and expanding what is possible within the tradition we’ve inherited. The great modernist poetry Marianne Moore coined the term “conversity” to describe the inherently dialogic nature of poetry. For her, the function of a literary journal was to host a dialogue between like-minded creative practitioners, to offer a forum for responding to and deconstructing the work of others.

Within my own creative practice, there would be complete silence without the presence of a larger community and without the work of curation and criticism. And these, too, are essentially creative endeavors, as much so as writing a poem, an essay, or a story.

What makes a good writing mentor?

An intense focus on craft that culminates with practical advice about professional empowerment. I’ve found that many teachers guard the secrets to artist residency applications, researching project funding, and applying to fellowships as though they were gold. While these secrets are valuable, they are also an important curricular topic, one that shouldn’t be overlooked or elided in advisement.

What is your style of feedback?

I would never want to change a writer’s approach. I simply hope to make you the best version of yourself on the printed page that you can possibly be. My feedback is inevitably inflected by my expertise as an editor, reading thousands of manuscript submissions per year. I enjoy helping advisees perfect their artistic vision and their approach to craft, but also, I will always relay practical strategies for making your submission stand out. My advisees will benefit from my nearly ten years experience as an editor at a leading independent press, and will gain insights from the editorial perspective in addition to the writer’s perspective.

An Invitation to Hybridity

Most of my work as a teacher and an editor attempts to expand what is possible within received forms of discourse. For many writers, the question of genre is inherently a question of power. These beliefs about what texts are legible, what texts are considered legitimate, reflect larger structures of authority in the literary community and in the academy. Poet and critic Sarah Vap writes, “I am extremely interested in what is often called hybrid or conceptual within the outstandingly elastic abilities of poetry – these efforts that pose a challenge to the categories of writing (scholarship, journalism, coding, etc.), asking them to also expand their abilities and considerations and concerns and ways. To democratize.” What Vap is suggesting is that dismantling the categories of writing is a larger ontological and metaphysical challenge to the social order – it calls into question the values and hierarchies that we impose upon language. So when she’s saying that hybridity is a democratization, this is what she means. Hybridity – placing disparate forms and or types of language in conversation – is a way of challenging rules but also the people and institutions in power who make those rules. When working with writers, I welcome unruly texts, unclassifiable texts, the innovative and the experimental. After all, a new message – and a challenge to the status quo – often requires new forms of discourse.

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