Postmark and Possibility
A conversation with Chris Campanioni & Kristina Marie Darling
Poets Chris Campanioni & Kristina Marie Darling talk about their forthcoming collaborative chapbook, RE: Verses, forthcoming from The Operating System.
Greetings! Thank you for talking to us about your process today! Can you introduce yourselves, in a way that you would choose?
CHRIS CAMPANIONI: What a difficult question! I suppose I’m so used to having so many others speak for me, so maybe that’s where I’ll start? I write very often in the interstices between identities and genres. I often write as a response to a cultural displacement I’ve experienced since childhood as a first-gen American and the product of forced migrations, as well as the physical dislocation of working for many years in media and fashion and within an economy of images, and I find that the “hybrid” or uncategorizable form becomes an opportunity to find empowerment exactly in that fragmentation and fluidity. Writing without genre or generic markers allows me to imbue the work with a kind of excess and also to find or form a certain poetics of accumulation and relation with the text and also the reader.
KRISTINA MARIE DARLING: I write across, beyond, and in spite of genre categories. While all of my work utilizes the artistic repertoire of poetry, I’m interested in the ways that poetic language can be brought to bear on what have heretofore been envisioned as purely scholarly questions. For me, every text is an act of deconstruction, a response to all that language that came before one’s own. Because I’m deeply invested in poetics as a vehicle for
response, critical analysis, and documentary impulses, collaboration has become an integral part of my practice. When working with Chris, I was thrilled for the opportunity to engage with his work as both scholar and practitioner. I envision my contributions as lyric criticism about, extensions of, proliferations from, and hypothetical questions pertaining to Chris’s poetics. For me, this is the most exciting possibility of poetics, to make an argument — and watch transformation happen — through the behavior of the language itself.
How did you meet and become collaborators? What made you want to work together? How did this project, in particular, emerge and come into being?
CC: We met in Los Angeles at AWP15. Kristina was editor of Black Ocean’s Handsome and had published my work in the issue’s most recent (and final) issue. As soon as we shook hands and introduced ourselves to one another, I knew that we’d be great friends but I could have never guessed that we’d be working together on a collaborative project only a few years later. Last winter, Kristina messaged me asking if I’d be up for engaging in a poetic exercise to keep us productive and to challenge ourselves. I’ve worked for several years as an editor of various literary and culture journals but I had never produced a co-written work. I agreed to her proposal and immediately sent her a poem. She sent one back almost hours later — as the manuscript testifies to — and RE:Verses was born.
KMD: I’m a longtime admirer of Chris’s work, and part of what drew me to this collaboration was our shared interest in critical writing and scholarship. I have always believed that every poem is, at its heart, and act of reading, a response to — and a deconstruction of — the work that has come before one’s own. Whereas critics in the traditional sense respond through content, poets respond through the behavior of the language itself. Going into this collaboration, I was excited because Chris is such an insightful critic, and his background in literary and cultural theory is truly impressive, as much so as his poetry and hybrid texts. This collaboration offered a wonderful opportunity to use the artistic repertoire of poetry as a vehicle for critical deconstructions of one another’s work. I’m intrigued by the way our collaboration became almost like a work of creative literary criticism.
Why are you a poet/writer/artist?
KMD: I’m a creative practitioner because I want to create a better world. What better place to make change happen than the very foundations of society, language itself?
CC: A student asked me that the other day and I told them what I often tell people: I write because I have to. So sure, this frees me up in certain ways from thinking about the framing of a work in terms of its potential to be circulated and the act of circulation in general, but it’s also a lot less about freedom than survival.
When did you decide you were a poet/writer/artist (and/or: do you feel comfortable calling yourself a poet/writer/artist, what other titles or affiliations do you prefer/feel are more accurate)?
KMD: I’m not comfortable with the term poet, because I feel it is misleading. So many readers and practitioners think of poetry as merely autobiographical, an articulation of one’s lived experience and the resulting point of view. And this variety of poetry usually comes in lineated stanzas. For me, the writer’s job is to imagine, and to question received forms of discourse. To call myself a poet would foreclose the possibility of hybridity, collage, appropriation, and templates that are not germane to poetry. For me, this is where all of the
exciting things happen — in the bright apertures, in the space between the things we feel certain about. This is what’s especially exciting about Chris’s work, and what made it so much fun to collaborate with him. The silences in his poems are just as fraught with emotion and complexity as the words themselves.
CC: Yeah, the thing that always attracted me to Kristina besides her talent as a writer was her enthusiasm for contributing to the creative and literary discourses of our community. She is not “just a writer” but a sensitive and perceptive reader and scholar. I find that I continually strive to perform in a similar role as both a multimedia artist working in text, video, and image but also an instructor and a researcher, engaging in literary and art criticism.
What’s a “poet” (or “writer” or “artist”) anyway? What do you see as your cultural and social role (in the literary / artistic / creative community and beyond)?
KMD: I’m excited and heartened by the way the role of the poet is becoming increasingly hybridized, encompassing not only writing but curatorial work, advocacy, and activism. In my own practice, editing and publishing work by others, and advocating for that work, has expanded my sense of what is possible in my own writing. After all, as Marianne Moore famously argued, the poem itself is a curatorial endeavor, a tiny museum filled with strange
objects, linguistic artifacts, and silence. I think this is part of the reason Chris and I worked so well together. He’s also an editor, and a colleague of mine at Tupelo Quarterly, so we brought a similarly curatorial sensibility to our chapbook project.
CC: I’d written about a year ago about poetry and empathy, and the role of the poet in an essay for The Brooklyn Rail called “The Poet as Caretaker” … and I think today, now more than ever, this is especially true. We are here to observe, which means to know, sure, but moreover, to notice. And recognition means not only seeing but really understanding, a groping toward understanding, which so often starts or ends, or starts and ends, by asking
fundamental questions — of ourselves and others.
In RE:Verses you are working with processes of reversal, repetition, effacement, and partialreveal — considering the liminal “apetures lit up with waiting” that grow out of correspondence. Can you speak more to this, or to other specific intentions or goals you had for the work? Whose voices or work were you looking to as inspiration, if any?
CC: When I began conceptualizing the project we were each actively writing toward, I immediately thought of Glissant, and also Wolfgang Iser, particularly his theory of reader-text relationship — thinking all the time about the “virtual convergence” between a reader and a text which creates a literary work. In our project, I thought about re-contextualizing this dyadic relationship to include two authors who were no longer authors but active readers, reading and responding to one another through highly-specific (or highly-specified at least) moments. If I could do one thing differently, it would have been to also include that spatial element — where were we at each moment we decided to write each other back? — and what does that geography do to situate or conversely, upend the reader who approaches this
collaborative, hybrid text?
KMD: I’ve always been intrigued by the tradition that links poetic voice and alterity. In other words, poetic voice is not our own, but instead, it is an otherness that speaks through us, and the poet is only the vessel. For Homer, this alterity was the muses, for H.D., it was the unconscious mind, for Jack Spicer, it was radio transmissions from outer space. And for many writers working in collaborative frameworks, this otherness is the “third voice” that emerges, which belongs to both of the poets and neither of them. And returning to Chris’s point about the relationship between the reader and the text, I was very interested in making the work a collaboration between not just myself and Chris, but the text and its audience. So that the reader would participate in the process of creating meaning alongside the poets. In this
way, that alterity, that otherness begins to speak through the reader as well.
Talk about the process of making this work, both independently and together.
Did you have this intention or develop the idea for a while? What encouraged and/or confounded this (or a book, in general) coming together? What was unexpected or surprising, if anything, about the process? How did it change or evolve?
KMD: What I enjoy most about collaborations, especially when you’re working across long distances, and writing with someone who’s in a different geographic space, is the sense of mystery. All that you don’t know about your collaborator becomes material for the imaginative work of the book. The collaboration, from my vantage point at least, frames poetry as dialogue, as opposition, as tension. Poetry as the testing of boundaries. Poetry as divination. Poetry as speaking in a third voice, which belongs to both of us and neither of us. We wanted to write together see where this third voice would lead us, how far afield we would find ourselves from our own comfortable practice as individual practitioners. Because we conceived of a conceptual framework, and a governing constraint, from the very beginning, the work came together quite naturally as a chapbook.
CC: I’m so used to writing on the run but the speed at which this project came together startled me. And I suppose the project as whole startled me, in absolutely thrilling and beautiful ways. Like any correspondence, I felt a responsibility and an accountability toward my recipient, but also the sheer joy of “opening” the letter, whenever I’d see the message’s subject blinking in my inbox. The project kind of came together — almost retrospectively —
during an encounter with a Spam e-mail’s title, which I actually embedded into one of the poems: “When does a poem stop being yours?” And my endeavor — our endeavor with this co-produced book, I think — was to call into question the ownership of creativity, and to open up a space for multi-user/collaborative authorship.
How did the collaboration process work in the coordination and production of a seamless text wherein there is no obvious distinction between each of your individual voices or production? Was that the intention from the beginning?
KMD: Absolutely! The best collaborations aren’t about the poets as individuals. Denise Duhamel and Julie Marie Wade gave a wonderful interview at Best American Poetry, where they talked about collaboration as a kind of collective or shared consciousness. I find their definition entirely compelling. If you ask me, collaboration is about challenging the boundaries between self and other, and interrogating the idea that we can assert ownership over language. When we let go of the arbitrary limitations that we place on language and literary texts, anything becomes possible.
Did you envision this collection as a collection or understand your process as writing or making specifically around a theme while the poems themselves were being written / the work was being made? How or how not?
KMD: The chapbook is a ledger, a record, an artifact. It documents the movements of a conversation, its wild associative leaps and driving tensions. In this respect, we envisioned the work as a collection from the very beginning, in the sense that a ledger omits nothing.
CC: After a certain point, as we began to understand that this was less of a writing prompt meant to urge us to write — and instead, to write for someone other than ourselves — it became clear that we had a book in our hands.
What formal structures or other constrictive practices (if any) do you use in the creation of your work? Have certain teachers or instructive environments, or readings/writings/ work of other creative people informed the way you work/write?
CC: This correspondence is certainly indebted to the ideas I continue to formulate around the personal text and especially the irregular, uncategorizable personal text. Much of my work in accounting and accountability has been influenced by Wayne Koestenbaum and his
writing and continual mentorship.
KMD: Our chapbook was born out of constraint as a way of generating possibility. We decided from the beginning that all poems would be letters, with a timestamp indicating when they were sent. Like a postmark. This gesture ultimately gave the work a sense of urgency and danger, as though we were writing against time, against impending disaster and the destruction of voice and language.
Speaking of monikers, what does your title represent? How was it generated? Talk about the way you titled the book, and how your process of naming (individual pieces, sections, etc) influences you and/or colors your work specifically.
KMD: The title was Chris’s brilliant contribution, so I’ll let him speak about that…
CC: Sure, just as I put it in our introduction — invitation? — to readers: a repetition or a reversal; a re: verse in which we correspond lyrically; a re: verse in which our correspondence becomes the poem. So every correspondence, in order to be sustained … needs both repetition and the certain uncertainty of each author’s having to rethink their own ideas. These “reversals” are just as important: the moment of disruption which elevates the text above — beyond? — its authors aims or intentions.
What does this particular work represent to you …as indicative of your method/creative practice? …as indicative of your history? …as indicative of your mission/intentions/hopes/plans?
KMD: For me, this work represents one of the great possibilities — and one of the great gifts of collaboration. It invites a spontaneity into one’s writing practice, which is something that’s often hard to achieve when working alone. I’m usually a planner when working on a manuscript. But since I never knew what Chris would do next, planning became nearly impossible. Which was great, because I was able to inhabit the present moment more fully when writing. And this spontaneity is something I’ll carry with me into my process as an individual creative practitioner.
CC: Exactly, those reversals I’d mentioned a moment ago. The correspondence goes hand-in-hand with the notebook project I am persistently developing, except in the enactment of actual exchange — hand-in-hand, remember — I had to relinquish my own authority, notions, perspectives, and as Kristina says, relish the immediacy of spontaneous reception and return, a scenario in which I never knew where I was going, or where I would be, only to say that we would be there together.
To what extent were you working independently or together? How did you go about the editorial process in this case? Were the pieces developed collaboratively from individual texts that started in a different form? Would it be possible to see any part of the process through incremental edits in any way? It could be interesting for the audience to see how a page or pages evolved, how your voices combined, were parsed and edited to become what we see now.
CC: What’s sort of still stunning about this project, for me at least, is how quickly it came together — not just the writing and responding to each other, but in fact the “editing” or “revising” process, which is to say, the whole process didn’t take very long at all because it never happened. As I mentioned earlier, I was very conscious of the parameter/reward of writing toward a poetics of accounting/accountability, and with the notebook form in mind,
I think it would be both counterproductive but also disingenuous to retrospectively render a correspondence differently, even by “polishing” it. I think the only thing we added before we decided that the manuscript was finished was actually an excision: the omission of our names in each poetic correspondence.
What does this book DO (as much as what it says or contains)?
CC: I’m big into the “doing” of a work so I’m appreciative that you framed the question in this manner. The text performs a call and response while signaling the reader toward the exigency of any writing’s temporal demands. Because each moment is literally marked, readers are asked to revel in both the immediacy of a response, or alternatively, the space between the messages sent. Each message becomes a charged moment of time, evidence of the time it was written and the broader context in which it occurred.
KMD: It suggests, evokes, and invites readers to imagine. I believe that the most powerful and meaningful moments in a text are often the silences. These apertures are what makes room for the reader’s imagination. So the text becomes a collaboration between writers, but also, a collaboration between the artists and their audience.
What would be the best possible outcome for this book? What might it do in the world, and how will its presence as an object facilitate your creative role in your community and beyond? What are your hopes for this book, and for your practice?
KMD: I hope this book invites conversations with practitioners across disciplines, a dialogue that challenges my aesthetic and pushes me to think through difficult questions about why I write the way that I do.
CC: I think the accomplishment of any book is found in its potential integration into other environments, and here I am thinking of the classroom — to be taught, to be discussed, to be repeated and replicated by students and instructors — but even more, areas and avenues distinctly outside of the classroom and academia. The book as a “living object” is explicit here; I’m interested in a book being “useful” only insofar as it’s useful for people in whatever way readers and writers choose to approach it.
Let’s talk a little bit about the role of poetics and creative community in social and political activism, so present in our daily lives as we face the often sobering, sometimes dangerous realities of the Capitalocene. How does your process, practice, or work otherwise interface with these conditions? I’d also be curious to hear some thoughts on the challenges we face in speaking and publishing across lines of race, age, privilege, social/cultural background, gender, sexuality (and other identifiers) within the community as well as creating and maintaining safe spaces, vs. the dangers of remaining and producing in isolated “silos” and/or disciplinary and/or institutional bounds?
KMD: Being a poet is being in a community. And every move we make in language is politically charged. I like to think of poetry as a hypothetical testing ground, where we imagine and refine new ways of structuring communication, relationships, and power dynamics.
CC: Sure, I think it’s so important — perhaps now more than ever — to get outside of our own isolationist models of socialization and production. While this was not the premise from which we began this project, the co-production of re:verse enabled us to move further and further away from an exclusionary and singular form of authorship.
Is there anything else we should have asked, or that you want to share?
CC: I would love for the reader to take this collaboration as a starting point for their own self-inquiries, and to take those questions as a move toward real interaction: the birth of other poetic correspondences.
KMD: Only this: we’d love to hear from you!
Chris Campanioni is a first-generation American, the son of immigrants from Cuba and Poland, and the author of the Internet is for real (C&R Press). He has worked as a journalist, model, and actor, and he teaches Latinx literature and creative writing at Baruch College and Pace University. His “Billboards” poem that responded to Latino stereotypes and mutable — and often muted — identity in the fashion world was awarded an Academy of American Poets College Prize in 2013, his novel Going Down was selected as Best First Book at the 2014 International Latino Book Awards, and his hybrid piece “This body’s long (& I’m still loading)” was adapted as an official selection of the Canadian International Film Festival in 2017. A year earlier, he adapted his award-winning course, “Identity, Image, & Intimacy in the Age of the Internet,” for his first TEDx Talk. He runs PANK and PANK Books, edits At Large Magazine and Tupelo Quarterly, and lives in Brooklyn.
Kristina Marie Darling is the author of thirty books, including Look to Your Left: The Poetics of Spectacle (University of Akron Press, 2020); Re: VERSES (with Chris Campanioni; The Operating System, 2019); Je Suis L’Autre: Essays & Interrogations (C&R Press, 2017), which was named one of the “Best Books of 2017” by The Brooklyn Rail; and DARK HORSE: Poems (C&R Press, 2018), which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Her work has been recognized with three residencies at Yaddo, where she has held both the Martha Walsh Pulver Residency for a Poet and the Howard Moss Residency in Poetry; a Fundación Valparaíso fellowship; a Hawthornden Castle Fellowship, funded by the Heinz Foundation; an artist-in-residence position at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris; three residencies at the American Academy in Rome; two grants from the Whiting Foundation; a Morris Fellowship in the Arts; and the Dan Liberthson Prize from the Academy of American Poets, among many other awards and honors. Her poems appear in The Harvard Review, Poetry International, New American Writing, Nimrod, Passages North, The Mid-American Review, and on the Academy of American Poets’ website, Poets.org. She has published essays in The Kenyon Review, Agni, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, and numerous other magazines. Kristina currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Press and Tupelo Quarterly, an opinion columnist at The Los Angeles Review of Books, and a contributing writer at Publishers Weekly.
ABOUT THE COVER ART:
The Operating System 2019 chapbooks, in both digital and print, feature art from Heidi Reszies. The work is from a series entitled “Collected Objects & the Dead Birds I Did Not Carry Home,” which are mixed media collages with encaustic on 8 x 8 wood panel, made in 2018. Heidi writes: “This series explores objects/fragments of material culture- -how objects occupy space, and my relationship to them or to their absence.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST:
Heidi Reszies is a poet/transdisciplinary artist living in Richmond, Virginia. Her visual art is included in the National Museum of Women in the Arts CLARA Database of Women Artists. She teaches letterpress printing at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, and is the creator/curator of Artifact Press. Her poetry collection titled Illusory Borders is forthcoming from The Operating System in 2019, and now available for pre-order. Her collection titled Of Water & Other Soft Constructions was selected by Samiya Bashir as the winner of the Anhinga Press 2018 Robert Dana Prize for Poetry (forthcoming in 2019). Find her at heidireszies.com