66 pages/ $12
If you are familiar with the work of Kristina Marie Darling, it should come as no surprise that she chooses Joseph Cornell as her muse for her newest collection recently released from BlazeVOX books. Cornell, an artist and sculptor, was revered for his work in assemblage, creating simple boxes fronted with glass planes that were filled with found objects. It has been noted that Cornell could create poetry from the commonplace, and he was inspired by precious objects of nostalgia and beauty. In this sense, Cornell is Darling’s other, as her fragmented poems of footnotes and definitions have been capturing nostalgic Victorian surreal dreamscapes for years. Opening a collection of Darling’s work is like opening a jewelry box of lustrous knick knacks and valuable antiques.
One of the most compelling characteristics of Darling’s writing is the amount of white space she leaves on the page. Her poetry crowds the bottom corners of the page as if pressed down by an invisible force that hovers above it. Louise Gluck’s essay “Disruption, Hesitation, Silence” ponders the possibilities of blank pages, and Gluck admits to being
“attracted to the ellipsis, the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence…The unsaid exerts a great power: it is analogous to the unseen; for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied.”
Darling’s newest collection certainly embodies this characteristic in full force: with sections titled “A History of Inventions,” “Astronomy,” “Horology,” “Ornithology,” “Music,” “Cartography,” and “The Moon,” the white spaces dazzle and electrify with the reader’s imagined supplement of what is missing. The poems require a vivid imaginative play on the reader’s part, and much joy comes from Darling’s refusal to narrate. Her blank pages transform into a space of thoughtful contemplation about science, art, and space in nostalgic and historic proportions.
But this is not to say that Darling’s poems are without any narrative grounding. Lyric snippets of narrations sneak in:
“When asked, she would describe the machine’s faithfulness. The switch turned only for her. And now the coldest light shining from beneath her wooden doorframe.”
“As one would expect, the levers produced an occasional shock. Despite the strength of these occasional currents, she claimed that the machine still left her cold.”
Lines such as these seductively snake their way in between definitions and descriptions, and they are stunningly illuminative. These narrations reveal truths about the human experience: our desire, our loneliness, our ambivalence with science and machines.
Darling’s definitions also complicate and enrich the readings of these poems. For instance:
1. Pertaining to the sky.
2. A heavenly being, such as a god or an angel.
3. Referring to the fallen empire, which scholars often describe as a replica of the divine kingdom.
A definition such as this forces readers to interrogate themselves within: what is it we really look for when we are looking towards the stars? What kind of mirror image of the sky are we trying to duplicate in what we build on earth? In another definition, Darling explores the emotional realm:
1. Extremely distressed or agitated
2. Overly complex or ornate.
3. Wearied or exhausted by overwork.
Again, the readers are left with less of a concrete idea and more of a truthful picture of what these terms explore. Darling’s poems are a collage of contradictions, and in these contradictions, we see our real selves reflected back at us.
Darling’s new book, like her past work, is fragmented, elegant, hallucinatory, old worldly, complex, and incredibly stunning- a collection of ekphrastic poems cluttered with precious trinkets and rare artifacts.
Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in Pank Magazine, The Comstock Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Poetry Quarterly, Cider Press Review, The Aurorean, and elsewhere. She was a recipient of the Academy of American Poet’s Prize, a nominee for the St. Botolph Emerging Writer’s Grant, and a participant in the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Poetry Workshop. She holds degrees in Behavioral Psychology and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University and received her MFA in Poetry from Emerson College. She currently teaches writing and literature at Emerson College, Wheelock College, and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston, MA. She also serves as a poetry reader for Ploughshares.