Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess.
Their collaborative book of poems, X Marks the Dress: A Registry, has been ricocheting around my brain since I first read it a few weeks ago. With the energy of a feisty poltergeist, these poems disturb scenes of intimacy, ceremony and seeming domestic bliss. The book calls itself “a registry,”--yes, we are skirting (pardon the pun) the issue of weddings and marriage. But when I read these poems, I was struck by how intriguingly they explore and question identity (especially the identity of individuals within a relationship). This book forces us to wonder--how do we change when we are in love, when we are married or engaged? How do love and desire impact who we are?
(NOTE: After the interviews with both Darling and Guess below, read “23-Piece Knife Set With Block” and “Pizza,” both of which appear with permission of the authors. Order your copy of the book here.)
Q: While reading X Marks the Dress: A Registry, I noticed how fond these poems are of destruction and escape. Identities slip in and out, genders blur and reverse, garments unravel, mementos are smashed or burned. I got the feeling that you and your co-writer were trying to locate something or someone.
In your poems (for this book, or for any of your work), how do you interact with what you are writing about? In your poems, are you chasing your ideas, or are they chasing you? How would you illustrate or perform what it feels like for you to write?
A: Kristina Marie Darling: When I write the poetry that I consider my best work, I never feel as though I've planned out the text, and I don't ever know how the project will unfold. Rather, I feel as though I'm discovering the text as I write it. I'm constantly testing the boundaries and limitations of what I've created, and doing my best to uncover its possibilities, some of which I'm aware of, and some of which I'm not.
With that in mind, I would compare the act of writing, or my process at least, to orchestrating a series of small-scale transformations. Since I work with long poems and book-length projects, I love introducing an image, then inscribing it and reinscribing it with new possibilities for interpretation as I keep writing. Usually, when I revisit images that I've used earlier in the text, I make spontaneous, and often very quick, judgments without letting myself overthink it. The decision to present the material again differently later in the text is usually an intuitive one, rather than a rational or logical choice. I'm a strong believer in trusting the unconscious, as I believe that many of the most exciting possibilities within the text, most of which we're not consciously aware of, reside there.
If I were to illustrate my process, I'd show you a magician struggling to pull an object out of her hat, not knowing if anything's really there, but trusting that something will eventually emerge. It will be a surprise for her more than anyone else.
A: Carol Guess: Thanks for this opportunity! What a great question, Hannah. X Marks The Dress: A Registry is about chase and capture. I wanted to describe my ambivalence about marriage. I'm driven by love and passion, but simultaneously seek to escape restraints. As a lesbian, I'm excluded from state-sanctioned marriage (as of this writing [Ed. note--this was written/received before DOMA was overturned!]; the Supreme Court plans to rule on two same-sex marriage cases any day now), but marriage has also shaped my ideas about sex, domesticity, and family. I wanted to focus on the ritual of the wedding registry because it links capitalism and domestic life, pressuring guests to purchase pre-selected, ready-made items for the bride and groom, rewarding the married couple for choosing state-sanctioned marriage as the structure for their sexual and domestic life. X Marks The Dress: A Registry deconstructs a conventional registry, challenging the ideologies behind mainstream rituals of gift giving and recognition. I wanted to create characters whose lives existed outside marriage, untouched by the need and greed expressed by registry requests -- queers, single people, people with multiple partners, people who choose not to marry or choose to divorce.
As for my process, for many years I was driven by discipline. With a background in classical ballet, I was schooled on daily practice, will power, and determination. All of these habits fuel art, but so does pleasure. My process now is wilder, freer. I no longer clock in or set specific writing goals, but instead try to stay focused on language as serious play, as music, as an ongoing question. I listen. I try to hear sounds in words as much as meaning, and to let language surprise and attract me. Collaboration is a form of play, sharing the alphabet with another artist. I love collaborating with Kristina, and I hope our book radiates the pleasure we took in writing it.
Two poems from X Marks the Dress: A Registry
23-Piece Knife Set With Block
How do you sever a lie from the life it’s leading? I’m tired of pretending to test drive cars. Pretending’s a job, tang of snake oil underneath my tongue. Our health insurance runs out in two weeks. You can’t get sick, can’t see a dentist, can’t look at the world through rose-colored glasses because glasses, Sweetheart, cost the sky. We’ll manage catastrophic for a while, but first I have to sit you down, carve a wife from a block of ice. I’m tired of boxers and motor oil. While you’re off shopping I change into my favorite dress and sway to love songs in our bedroom mirror. The woman I am would tell you the truth.
One night, when the kids were in bed and the house was quiet, we flipped through our wedding album. We teared up remembering our vows, and laughed at photos of our dog in the pool.
As we flipped through the album, I noticed a handsome stranger standing half in, half out of several photos. He seemed to belong at another wedding, as if he’d wandered into the wrong hotel.
How odd, I said, that a stranger ended up in so many of our photos. He’s even in photos we took at home. Look, I said, he’s petting our dog. He’s cutting our cake. He’s hugging your mom.
You twisted your ring. He’s not a stranger.
Oh, I said. I tried to let it go.
A few minutes later I put down the album. Who is that man and what is he doing in our wedding photos?
Darling, you said, don’t be angry.
I’m not angry, I said. Not yet.
Would you like me to order pizza?
No, I said. Explain that man.
Darling, you know how my mother and father rejected me? How they said they couldn’t support our relationship, that our wedding was an insult to God? Well, I told my parents I was marrying a man. I hired an actor to play my husband. It was just so they’d come to our wedding. We put the cake in the other room.
I went into the kitchen and came back with a cup of coffee from the pot I’d made that morning.
Darling? I did the ceremony real quick, just a few people, my brother and your brother, too, and then everyone joined us for the party. I’ve been meaning to tell you. He has an apartment on the south side of town. I go there sometimes to have dinner with my parents. He has kids from his first marriage, Becky and Jeff.
Those are our kids’ names.
I know, you said. That’s why we had to name them Becky and Jeff.
I looked at the wedding album. We were dancing, dresses swirling. Our bridesmaids danced with us, a cluster of women. Your actor-husband was off to the side, frosting smeared on his face like paint.