[REVIEW] X Marks the Dress: A Registry, by Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess

Goldwake Press
102 pages/ $15.95

Review by Carlo Matos

X Marks the Dress, a wonderful and entertaining collaboration between Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess, takes the shape of a registry: the marriage, so to speak, of ritual and consumerism; that is, the economic reinforcement of the hetero-normative traditions and social conventions that govern and limit marriage practices. A registry is, of course, first and foremost a collection of things. In previous books, Kristina Marie Darling has explored how the things that remain from failed relationships can bury, bind or enslave the beloved and how those individual items are culturally situated along the lines of gender and power. Darling says in an interview at heavy feather review that she wanted to “defamiliarize many of the objects, rituals and conventions associated with weddings,” and I think Darling and Guess have succeeded in accomplishing that goal without getting too bogged down in polemic.

In Appendix A, there is a footnote that references an “autobiographical novel [that] depicts a heroine’s pursuit of an alternative to marriage, particularly the social conventions governing the ceremony itself.” The authors very plainly play with the notion that marriage means man-and-wife. I have to admit to my great consternation that it was far too easy for me to simply assume that the marriage was between a woman and a man. In fact, it seems to me that the book is calculated to lure the reader into this too-easy assumption in order to, like Ibsen loved to do to his audiences in the nineteenth-century, jar us into recognition. The duo is actually a trio: “I’m tired of threeways where no one gets fucked” (“[Wedding Favor: Coin Purse]”). The male figure is transgender: “I can’t keep my two lives together much longer. Once the M on my license goes missing, our marriage dissolves: two women mean nothing” (“Pearl-handled Letter Opener”). The female character had a secret second wedding: “Darling, you know how my mother and father rejected me? . . . Well, I told my parents I was marrying a man. I hired an actor to play my husband” (“Pizza”). Continue reading

Reluctant Mistress, by Anne Champion (A Review by Hannah Rodabaugh)

Gold Wake Press 

86 pages/ $15.95 


Anne Champion’s first book, Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), is a lovely accomplishment of enveloping beauty. This poetry collection, which centers on love and relationships (and infidelity, in peculiar), displays a timelessness in image and tone. While reading this sophisticated, yet earthy collection, there were moments where I wondered if I were reading an anthology of ancient love poems by Catullus or Sappho because of her poems’ pure, undiluted images. This is not a criticism; purity and fineness and an authenticity of spirit are all too rare in a cynical, postmodern landscape. This is certainly not to say that this book is not justifiably modern. Rather, it is because Champion lets each poem so fully be itself, that they work so thoroughly across history.

The first half of Reluctant Mistress parallels the more sugarficial, glycerined aspects of romance. And while it occasionally makes gestures towards apparent sentimentality, (the repetitiveness of “Villanelle for Past Lovers” or the weddingscape of “Blessing” are almost problematic), their stunted happiness is intentional—part of the crux of this book is how artificial these feelings are and can be: in the “The Great Show,” she writes, “These awkward, fumbling puppet limbs enjoyed the lead role in that old, artificial tale of love.” It is almost impossible not to write of love this way—especially when writing about your past as a present which does not now exist in the world outside the perfect reality of the poem you have created for it. In “Dabbling in the Occult,” she writes:

” When Amanda’s crush finally pressed her
up against the window inside the school bus, 

jostling his tongue with hers the whole ride home,
we thought it must be our potions that did it, 

not realizing yet that boys take their power;
they don’t need charms to manifest it.”  Continue reading

Sympathy from the Devil by Kyle McCord (A Review by Anne Champion)


Gold Wake Press

80 pages/$12.95

Kyle McCord’s Sympathy from the Devil crosses a myriad of celestial and earthly terrains. In this collection, readers encounter God, Gabriel, and, of course, the Devil; they also ride trains named for endangered birds, get tossed off a rusty mechanical bull, all while colliding with pop culture references such as the TV show Lost, werewolves, and Batman. While weaving through themes of love, spirituality, and philosophical meanderings, these poems take the reader to surprising places and topics: necromancy, rude birds, the ship of fools, astronomy, the zodiac and even law school. Each page is a treasure trove, a roller coaster ride of dips and spins- the reader never knows what to expect, but each turn is both terror and thrill.

Poems about God are a long standing subject matter for poets to interrogate, and some even say that poetry itself is a form of prayer. In the essay “Facing Altars: Poetry as Prayer,” poet and memoirist Mary Karr writes: “People usually (always?) come to church as they do to prayer and poetry- through suffering and terror. Need and fear. In some Edenic past, our ancestors began to evolve hard-wiring that actually requires us (so I believe) to make a noise beautiful enough to lay on the altar of the Creator/Rain God/Fertility Queen. With both prayer and poetry, we use elegance to exalt, but we also beg and grieve and tremble. We suffer with prayer and poetry alike. Boy, do we suffer.”  McCord’s collection reminds me of Mary Karr’s Sinners Welcome, both in its use of God and its unabashed employment of humor and the bizarre to broach the Holy Ghost. In my favorite poem of the collection, “Sympathy from the Devil,”McCord writes:

 “When you laugh at Satan, the Lord laughs also.  But Satan does not laugh

when you laugh at your own apish posture in the mirror.  He has an antelope

look in his eyes.”

Later in the poem, he writes:

“…When you deny

Satan, it’s not like confetti falls or heralding trumpets sound. You go on

relishing your Cobb salad on the promenade.” Continue reading

The Body is a Little Gilded Cage by Kristina Marie Darling (A Review by J. A. Tyler)

In short: Kristina Marie Darling’s The Body is a Little Gilded Cage is the best book that Darling has written and the best book that Gold Wake Press has produced. I’ve read Darling’s previous Night Songs (also from Gold Wake Press) and Compendium (from Cow Heavy Books) and while both are good, this new book is the strongest of Darling’s work by far. And in terms of Gold Wake Press, the production quality of this particular title is much higher than their previous titles, the design cleaner, the cover art more refined, and the layout nicely punchy, a book beautiful to hold in every way.

from ‘Soirée (III)’:

The music begins & we watch dancers stumble beneath dim chandeliers. Their faces blur in every mirror & I imagine us adrift among the hall’s towering white pillars. My heart a room opening inside a darkened room. Now each balustrade glitters with empty crystal & the guests can only murmur. The phonograph keeps turning & soon the night is a pearl necklace I’ve locked away with a silver key–

One of the best elements of The Body is a Little Gilded Cage is Darling’s understanding and use of through-line. The narrative is that of a garden party coupling, but told from a variety of poetic perspectives in time and space, enormous close-ups of corsages and chandeliers mixed with sweeping pans across the garden, the dancing bodies, our heated couple buried within or skirting the edges.

The Body is a Little Gilded Cage also very effectively uses diversity of modes, beginning with tightly woven prose poems, moving into footnotes for unwritten texts, definitions of phrases and words within the collection, and closing with a stint of fantastically fragmented letters.

from ‘A History of the Phonograph: Glossary of Terms’:

emboss. To impress upon, usually with the intent of preserving. Between movements the phonograph seemed to turn more slowly, heavy with the wilted corsages of last season

from ‘Appendix B: Correspondence’:


You were like

bits of broken glass-pictures in a cathedral

night & some Greek island

this is not much of a letter

And while this variety of approaches in a single poetic collection is not new for Darling, Compendium functioned in much the same way, the ease and clarity of the through-line here is deftly rendered and shows us the best of what Kristina Marie Darling has to offer. The only question we are left with in The Body is a Little Gilded Cage is what would happen to Darling’s writing if she didn’t use footnotes or mock-historical documents, what if she wrote a collection that didn’t diversify its approach throughout? I’m excited to see the answer to those questions somewhere down Darling’s writerly trajectory, but in the meantime, she has given us her best work here, perfectly pinned in a beautiful Gold Wake Press skin.

The Body is a Little Gilded Cage is available from Gold Wake Press.

J. A. Tyler is the author of three novels: Inconceivable Wilson, A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed, and A Shiny, Unused Heart. He is also founding editor of Mud Luscious Press.