Writer Round-Up: A Collective Interview Wherein Writers We Like
Discuss Topics Related to the Craft
Noctuary Press Authors : Kristina Marie Darling, Kristy Bowen, Carol Guess, & Eva Heisler
Interview by Cynthia Reeser
For Prick of the Spindle, Vol. 7.3, Sept. 2013
In this issue, the publisher spotlight is on Noctuary Press. Some of their authors answer a handful of questions.
Please say a few words about your publication with Noctuary Press, and tell us one important thing about your Noctuary book.
Carol Guess: Noctuary Press published my hybrid text, F IN. The cover art is by photographer Holly Andres. So far readers have responded to the text as poetry, fiction, political commentary, and visual art.
Kristina Marie Darling: I’m the sole editor of Noctuary Press, which means that I select the manuscripts, work on the interior layout of the selected books, and collaborate with David McNamara of Sunnyoutside Press on the cover designs. I’m also responsible for publicity, so I send out review copies, line up interviews for Noctuary Press authors, and publicize the press through features, interviews, and the press’s web and social media presence.
I’d have to say that one of the most important things that Noctuary Press is doing is filling a gap in the publishing landscape. When I started the press, there were many presses concerned with cross-genre, hybrid genre, and post-genre writing. But much of the work being published seemed merely to rebel against the notion of genre, rather than to engage in sociopolitical questions about genre formation in a meaningful way. I envisioned Noctuary Press as a space where women writers could engage, in a creative way, these questions about the gender politics of genre categories, and interrogate the underlying structures of power and authority that they represent. For me, Noctuary Press is not so much a publishing project, but a forum for a larger conversation, which encompasses writers, readers, reviewers, and editors.
Kristy Bowen: It was entirely serendipitous that I was in the last stages of finishing the manuscript and getting ready to submit it when Kristina Marie Darling wrote to me last fall, asking if I might have anything suitable that she could consider for Noctuary’s first publication year. Since it was a little different than the things I’d done before (a longer prose-oriented narrative, the braiding of three individual but related storylines), I was a little hesitant to show anyone, and unlike some of my other projects, I hadn’t really been sending out any of the work to journals (mostly because it felt like the individual pieces would be hard to market outside of the whole.) To my amazing fortune, Kristina loved it and decided to publish it. Probably most important for me was trying out a lengthier narrative structure. I’ve always been convinced I’d make a terrible novelist since my writing abilities seem to be better at the short-distance sprint than the full-on marathon, but this is a nice compromise—the story told in fragments and riddles.
Eva Heisler: Drawing Water is an exploratory meditation on the line—both the poetic line and the drawn line. The setting is Reykjavik, where my writing desk overlooked the sea. Trying to make (or find) poems while staring at the sea, day after day for years, I began to think of the mirage of the horizon line as analogous to the mirage of the poem. (Where and how is the poem located?) I had been working on a series of prose poems for several years, and I was rethinking my relationship to the line. At the same time, I was conducting art historical research in Iceland, and I was struck by how artists have reinvented approaches to drawing. Drawing Water is an attempt to talk about the poetic line through talking about the artist’s use of line (conceptual, found, expressive, and descriptive).
Tell us about your creative process.
CG: F IN began as a murder mystery, and was picked up by a genre publisher, but as we began revising toward publication, I realized I hated the book I’d written! I hadn’t subverted clichés at all; changing the POV didn’t do enough to challenge sexist conventions. So I ended up pulling the book. In a moment of despair I whited out the entire text on my computer.
Then I became obsessed with erasing the text. I wanted to see if the subversive feeling I’d hoped to create for readers was possible through erasure. I never thought anyone would publish F IN; it was a way to make peace with a stubborn project. A month later, Kristina Marie Darling e-mailed to tell me about Noctuary Press. She asked to read F IN, and the book was born.
KMD: My creative process and my editorial process are deeply connected. They’re driven by the same desire for established genre categories (whether it’s poetry, fiction, or scholarly writing) to be more inclusive, since so much of the time, these categories are predicated on acts of exclusion. In my creative work, particularly my books, Petrarchan, The Moon & Other Inventions, and Brushes with, all available from BlazeVOX [books], I take academic forms of discourse—such as footnotes, endnotes, appendices, and other marginalia—and fill them with content that would never be considered academic. This “unscholarly” content can range from aestheticized language to fictional narratives or even autobiography. I hope to expand what is possible within these academic forms of writing, as well as to democratize the privileged discourse they represent.
My work with Noctuary Press is driven by many of these same concerns. It’s such a privilege to see how other writers approach these questions about the sociopolitics of genre formation. In some cases, the choice of form, the approach to narrative, and the overall aesthetic have been vastly different from what readers find in my own work. The experience of being an editor has definitely been an inspiration, showing me new possibilities for my own creative projects.
KB: Over the last ten or so years, I think my approach to composing a piece of work has shifted. I used to sit down and say that I wanted to write a poem about x, y, or z and then do it, but now (and I suspect my further forays visually into collage work may have something to do with it), I’m much more likely to sit down with pieces, snippets, images and make something into some sort of whole. I don’t always know what I’m going to get when I do this, and sometimes it’s delightful and sometimes quite horrible. But art as a discovery process seems much more fun than pursuing it rather doggedly. On a bad day, at most I just walk away with nothing, but on a good day I might totally surprise myself.
EH: Drawing Water evolved out of folding texts one into another. I worked with three texts. The first was a series of reflections on the material experience of mark-making. (My mother was a commercial artist, and my earliest memories involve ink bottles and pen nibs.) The second consisted of notes taken at art exhibitions in Iceland. The third was John Ruskin’s The Elements of Drawing in Three Letters to Beginners, published in 1859. (I love this text for the precision of its language; Ruskin focuses entirely on drawing as a descriptive medium.) I folded, unfolded, and refolded these three texts in an effort to explore the poetic line: the line as an experience of breath, the line as a visual experience of marks on a page, and the line as a unit of meaning.
What do you hope to convey through your writing or what is the sensibility you want readers to come away with after reading your work?
CG: When less is more, the alphabet shines through in all its oddity.
KMD: I hope that readers—whether they’re engaging my creative work or a Noctuary Press book—will come away with a new sense of what’s possible within established genre categories. I hope to show that the readerly expectations we all bring to established literary genres can be manipulated in productive ways—even undermined. What’s more, I hope that this process of frustrating readers’ expectations of form and genre will foster more open-minded reading practices among those who already love literature. Ideally, the reader will come away from my book, or a Noctuary Press book, believing that anything is possible in a literary text.
KB: I think the longer I write, the more I feel like I have absolutely no control (nor desire to control) how a reader responds to anything I write. I tend to write to my passions, or sometimes just play around with words and things; I always feel like some people will gravitate toward and understand what I’m doing (or maybe sometimes discover something happening there that even I didn’t see before). Others may not be interested at all. On the other hand, what is writing but an attempt to mold the reader’s experience and produce a certain response? So I’m probably doing it even while I deny that I’m doing it…
EH: In The Little Book of Unsuspected Subversion, Edmond Jabès writes: “Subversive, the page where words believe they will find a foothold; subversive, the word where the page opens onto its whiteness.” I’m certainly not claiming my book is subversive, but I do like Jabès’s notion of the word and the page subverting one another. I hope readers experience Drawing Water as both a written and drawn text, and that my work extends the framework for thinking about the line in relationship to the page.
Carol Guess is the author of thirteen books of poetry and prose. Follow her at www.carolguess.blogspot.com.
Kristina Marie Darling is the author of fifteen books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and a forthcoming hybrid genre collection called Fortress (Sundress Publications, 2014). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She is currently working toward a PhD in Poetics at SUNY-Buffalo, where she edits Noctuary Press.
A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of several book, chapbook, and zine projects, including the prose series, the shared properties of water and stars (Noctuary Press) and beautiful, sinister (Maverick Duck Press), as well as a poetry collection, girl show (Black Lawrence Press). Her work has appeared most recently in birdfeast, Projectile, and The Jet Fuel Review. She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio and spends much of her time writing, making papery things, and curating a chapbook series devoted to women authors.
Eva Heisler is a Maryland-born poet and art critic currently living in Germany. Recent publications include Reading Emily Dickinson in Icelandic (Kore Press) and Drawing Water (Noctuary Press), as well as “The Ruse of Surface,” an art historical essay for the catalogue published in conjunction with the Iceland Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale.