Last month, I talked with Kristina Marie Darling over email about her new book Compendium (Cow Heavy Books, 2011)—topics ranged from the Romantic fragment to mourning rituals to collaboration to erasure.
Darling is also the author of the poetry collection Night Songs (Gold Wake Press, 2010). She has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, the Ragdale Foundation, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, as well as grants from the Vermont Studio Center and the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her editorial projects include an anthology, narrative (dis)continuities: prose experiments by younger american writers (VOX Press, 2011), and a volume of critical essays forthcoming from Cambridge Scholars Press.
Michael Leong: First off, congratulations on the new book. I was wondering if you could begin by discussing the title. A “compendium” is, according to some definitions, an “abridgement or condensation of a larger work or treatise” or a “condensed representation, an embodiment in miniature.” Reading through your book, I got the sense that I was encountering paratexts (and in the book you interestingly draw on several paratextual forms like the footnote and the glossary) to a post-gothic or Victorian novel—in other words, we have the textual fringes of a narrative but not the narrative itself. What is the relationship between the work called Compendium and any larger work or main text?
Kristina Marie Darling: That’s a great question. When I set out to write Compendium, I hoped that the book would allow the reader to imagine the main text. Although he or she would hopefully be guided by the fragments found in the collection, I wanted it to become their creation. Sigmund Freud once said (and I’m definitely paraphrasing here) that there is something inherently satisfying about incompleteness. In his opinion, the supposedly missing elements in a work of art allow space for the audience’s imagination. The spectator fills in the blanks with things that he or she wished were there.
This idea, that there is beauty and freedom in incompleteness, definitely was influential for me as a reader and a writer. I came to admire texts in which the reader experiences a sense of agency, often because he or she is asked to speculate or imaginatively reconstruct elements of a narrative. This is definitely something that I was striving for in Compendium. Continue reading
I’ve read over 120 books in 2009, and by the time the year is up I’ll have reviewed over fifty. At the risk of being redundant, I’ve put together a list of the books I thought were this year’s best. I’ve also included links to the ones I reviewed. But before that, I should mention some great books that weren’t published this year: Eugene Lim’s Fog & Car, Eugene Marten’s Waste, Mary Caponegro’s first three books, Ken Sparling’s Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, and Michael Kimball’s The Way the Family Got Away and Dear Everybody. And then there’s Shane Jones’s The Failure Six, David Shields’s Reality Hunger, and Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point, all of which won’t be released until next year. By the way, while the so-called major presses churned out a whole lot of fluff I did enjoy John Haskell’s Out of My Skin and Anne Michaels’s The Winter Vault. Oh, and I should mention The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino which is playful and inventive in that inimitably Calvino way. Each chapter is a combination of pseudo-science (as far as I can tell) and fantasy—a weird mishmash of fable and fact. They sound like entries from an encyclopedia sometimes, albeit a whimsical one. This was the best way to close out the year. So, besides beautifully-crafted language, eddying narratives, evocative imagery, and provocative characters—whose quirks, thoughts, and comings and goings remain with me—what the books on this list have in common is that they were published by independent presses.
I met Joanna Ruocco at her release gathering for The Mothering Coven. After her reading, she gave me a copy of the latest issue of Birkensnake. She’s one of the editors there and she told me that she had bound the book herself. It’s a lovely object that was both blowtorch-singed, and sprayed, I think, with some kind of toxic (is there any other kind?) fixative.
Birkensnake 2 opens with Michael Stewart’s “The Children’s Factory,” a beguiling short short with no shortage of underlying menace. The factory’s machines here are “run by tiny hands. In the bowels. In the guts. In the very intestinal tract of it…” and the “Devil only knows what their great machine does—other than wheeze and breathe.” Though it easily works as a standalone piece, it also felt like it could be a fragment of a much larger narrative.
An excerpt from Danielle Dutton’s novel A World Called the Blazing World follows. It’s about Margaret Cavendish, a polymath who lived in England in the 17th century. Besides being Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne she was a prolific writer who wrote poetry, philosophy, prose romances, essays, plays, and she also wrote a proto-science fiction novel, The Blazing World. Dutton is a wonderful stylist who writes sentences to luxuriate in:
The trip to Oxford was made in the dead of night. Kisses on the lawn at St. John’s Green. A perfect summer gloom of vegetal bravado: peonies, bugloss, native beetles singing.
Then someone cleared his throat—and Margaret saw she was in an alternate universe whirring far into space: African servants, poets, dogs in silken caps, platonic ideals, sparkling conversation, aristocratic ladies “half-dressed, like angels,” and ivy-coated quadrangles with womanizing captains, dueling earls, actors.