ANNE MARIE FOWLER Reviews
Night Songs by Kristina Marie Darling
(Gold Wake Press, Boston, 2010)
Kristina Marie Darling’s poetry is innovative brilliance. Darling navigates the luminous space between night and night song. There is both a literal and figurative narrative operating within and between the poems, a very Victorian exploration of the world as literal landscape and as figurative space. She evokes music and light in each of the poems: in some poems, she embraces the dark landscape as shadow against the tiny illuminations of light. In others, she encapsulates the brilliance of music as it casts its notes against the darkness and the light. Although the majority of the poems appear at first to be quite brief, the diminutive use of space for each of her poems in the first section of the book belies the magnanimity of each poem’s content. These poems are giants on the page.
There are two visuals that permeate the poems that are unusual and pleasurable: instruments of light and musical instruments. “I Was Lit as if from the Inside” creates the sense of light as coming from an interior rather than an exterior source. The main source of light is found within the speaker’s internal self and all other aspects of light are simply reflections from this point. In this poem, the inner sense of light is balanced by the “cellist’s luminous cufflinks” and the “uncanny whiteness of his shirt” and is then juxtaposed with the falling of curtains and an evening outside that had “opened like a black umbrella.”
In other poems, the reader is witness to the value of musical instruments as wellspring for feeling, movement, and light. In “The Cello,” the speaker engages an unknown other who participates in the “cradling [of] the instrument’s long neck, its cavernous belly” while together they take turns “watching the cold metal strings shiver and hum” as the snow outside appears stark “like tinfoil under a phosphorescent moon.”
“In Which the Heart is an Intricate Phonautograph” is another such example of feeling, movement, and light:
Unravel me, strange machine. With this deciduous murmur, your brass and steel. Reinscribe the notes of my threadbare song. Carve my name upon metal and wax. O phonautograph, your little dial turns within the body’s sleek walls. Yet when the needle sparks, how the bones glow. The throat, a lantern. Light catching in the folds of each unspoiled wrist.
Likewise with “The Forest, Or, The Musician Dreams a Change of Seasons”:
He begins by playing the saddest song he knows, an elegy for each dark red leaf rustling on the trees. And out of it drifts a woman’s voice, ringing like an iron bell into the cold blue night. As if to postpone a change of seasons with her low madrigal, its muted crescendos, the instrument’s stuttering fugue. Yet when the frost sets in, every note becomes an ode, echoing through parched foliage. Within that music, a wilderness. The forest’s dried canopy heaves and sways.
These are only two examples of the brilliance of the prose poems that make up the majority of this book. Their structures, though condensed, illuminate the world in ways that are otherworldly, that create a veritable feasting of passion for music, for light, and for life. These are lyrical poems that conduct an orchestra of lyrical experiences.
Yet, “Night Songs” also presents an alternate view of the world in an alternative poetic structure, and it does so by virtue of extended exploration. Three poems close the book using traditional research notations in unconventional and extremely poetic ways. The first, “Footnotes to a History of Ornithology,” at first seems to be extraneous to the other poems. However, the use of light to convey meaning is still evident, still used as a form of connection from one poem to the next. Here we find “tiny golden doors” and “a gilt mirror glistening.” Darling exposes anomalies while preserving the very Victorian sensibility that she cultivates throughout her work.
Her final two poems begin their titling using the word “appendix.” If we take the term at its very heart, we could be coerced to see the poems as supplementary but to believe so would be counter to the actuality of the experience in these poems. The most interesting part of “Appendix A: Collages & Found Texts” is the use of pieces and parts of a Victorian guide to music appreciation. Yet, these are not simple phrases extracted from a guide. They are, instead, whole movements, expansive orchestral and light-filled celebrations of the universe, of rhythm defined by heartbeats, the science of musical composition, cathedrals of inspiration, and what exists as refuge or ruin. In “Appendix B: Erasures,” we are introduced to ends that are beginnings, recall and questions, a cellist who “recalled/ her last visit, a corridor. & tonight/ his tuxedo, silk gloves,” splintered violas, stuttering, and “every note / a wilderness.”
Luminous with light, heavy with passion and music, evocative of Victorian pleasures and structures, this book of poems deserves to exist in the hands of readers who wish for an orchestra of meaning and experience. These are poems that present to us the music of the world, and we should listen to them carefully.
Anne Marie Fowler’s creative work has been published nationally and internationally. She has also contributed to several encyclopedias on literature and sex workers, as well as one on online learning. Anne Marie currently teaches composition, research, literature, creative writing and mythology. She is working on mastering jewelry making, creating mixed media art that speaks to the creative spirit, and finalizing a book of poetry. She holds a Ph.D. in world literature in English and translation and an M.F.A. in poetry.