Occasionally, we get the opportunity to share our thoughts on the outside work of our past contributors, as well as other projects that we think would interest readers of A cappella Zoo. To send something for possible review, especially new work relevant to magic realism and slipstream, email us at editorATacappellazoo.com.
Kristina Marie Darling. Cow Heavy Books, 2011. Vardaman Books, 2012.
Kristina Marie Darling’s Compendium is a marvel of a marriage, its formal experimentation expertly synced with the puritan restraint of its content. Though a chapbook of poetry, the closest we get to poems in the expected sense is a series of six prose pieces (“The Box,” “The Blue Sonnets,” “The Lockets,” “The Homage,” “The Dress,” and “The Elegy”) followed by six corresponding erasures. Behold, if you will, the transformation of “The Lockets”:
Once he took Madeleine to the opera house, it
was never long before the connoisseur mentioned
the lockets…. (13)
It was never
the lockets. (25)
Yet in the absence of more traditional forms—and yes, absence factors heavily here, as in the palimpsest of the opening poem—we are offered notes, footnotes, histories, and introductions. In short, we have the compendium of the title without anything concrete to attach it to.
As it turns out, one shouldn’t miss the source text, the ghost text, very much at all. In Darling’s assemblage one uncovers such gorgeous imagery as “in every necklace a cluster of stars” (“Footnotes to a History of Dress”) and a “glass of water still shimmering on the nightstand” (“An Introduction to the Lyric Ode”). The status of the latter piece as introduction holds particular interest since it does, in fact, close out the book. Such a gesture might suggest a kind of Nabokovian gamesmanship if the language were not so subdued throughout.
So what are the concerns of this book, exactly? Well, that’s harder to say. There are two characters: Madeleine and the connoisseur. Madeleine acts as a sort of muse for the connoisseur; in addition to the requisite lockets and jewelry boxes, he offers her “blue sonnets.” What she gives back is not entirely clear. We know that she enjoys music and dancing. At the end of “The Box,” the first of the prose pieces, there is “snow falling outside the great white house as she danced and danced.” At the end of “The Elegy,” the final poem in that series, “only after a year had passed, with its lengthy veils and dark lacquer broach, would she fasten the slipper’s luminous buckle and dance again.” There has been a progression in the intervening poems, one that, from the image of her mourning vestments, has culminated in the connoisseur’s death. If that’s really the case and, if so, by what hand he has fallen, is harder to deduce.
What follows once the narrative threads have worn away is sure to divide readers along party lines. Those who enjoy the elusive (and allusive) will find the book transportive. For those already bemoaning the impermeability of much contemporary verse, conversion is unlikely. More than the sum of its signifiers—Victorian and Romantic filtered through academic avant-garde—Compendium offers up a cerebral ghost story, its specters stalking the halls of white space between and within fragments. It’s about as difficult a text as one that fits snuggly in your front pocket can be, but well worth a wander.
— Zach Buscher, assistant editor, A CAPPELLA ZOO
© 2012 Zach Buscher