Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Maintain (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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French cuffs, suede, spilled wine, and cigarettes, melancholia and various artifacts of it—a fragile
corsage, a shared tune—these are the things with which Kristina Maria Darling begins this elegant little
piece of work. Here we have a book that functions a bit like those boxes of Joseph Cornell’s—a bit of
string, some clippings from an ornithology guidebook, a cufflink, a dried violet, a coin-size circular mirror, a
rubber ball. A set of brief prose-poem-ish pieces segues into a series of notes, a set of footnotes, more
footnotes, a glossary, and epistolary fragments, much of the text rendered from the correspondence of HD, as in,
for instance, a “footnote” on one of her letters and the footnote following with a direct quote:
“A lengthy message, in which she describes the analyst’s shelves of priceless Egyptian
statuettes,” “‘Ever since I had wished for the collection, but also the role of its
proprietor. To catalogue his little Vishnu idols and the disquieting canopic jars.’” Here is a little
cabinet of wonder, a kit for entrancement, a “noctuary” of sorts, to use one of this text’s
defining words. These pages, with these sparse, tantalizing text, act precisely as that “phonograph
spinning beneath dim chandeliers,” establishing a mood and offering the chance encounter, even romance.
Ice, sea glass, empty rooms, a choir. There are several narratives here, at least implied, including one about Freud, as per the statuettes and canopic jars, above. Another is a story of longing, unrequited. “I’ll do anything,” a fragment moans, having noted that “one never hears anything from you,” the reticent object of desire. Imagery with more than a trace of the nightmarish to its repetition, as if, in wanting someone who remains out of reach, we slip, and fall, and continue to fall, into an abyss marked by a dash, the end of language. “Your green shutters fly open & still the problem of expressing these things—” Other things open in other iterations of that phrase, but there is always this gasp, at the end. As much as the poet might want “to preserve the ritual, its delicate structure,” flowers fade and dry and crumble and music dims. The poet’s “hermetic methods of preservation,” reduces, in the end, to a shattered song, shards of it gleaming, shards missing, shards dark.
This book is a treasure, but a melancholy, even macabre one. There is a recurring motif of ending up trapped, enshrined, in a cathedral, in hidden chambers or corridors. Architecture is alive to the extent that it conspires against love and uniting. “The cathedral heaves,” we hear at one point. Elsewhere the object of affection is “indifferent as a dusty marble saint—” shattering off into that rupture with language, exchange. What Darling gives us here is the mystery of a dream entered, fire and feathers, promise and threat. “I had wanted to preserve the strange white light that shone that evening,” declares a voice here, quoted, speaking in-process, the thoughts rephrased or the phrases re-embedded, over and over, as if wandering in a labyrinth while the music plays, or, after the music, the dry scratching sound of a needle along an empty groove.
Official Kristina Marie Darling Web Site
Official Gold Wake Press Web Site