Reviews, Vol. 4.3, Sept. 2010
Gold Wake Press, 2010
Perfect bound, 62 pp., $14
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Kristina Marie Darling’s Night Songs is a poetry collection that speaks to transformation, from the platforms of the stage, or the orchestra pit, or the aria resting dormant in the throat of the prima donna standing behind the velvet curtain. Divided into three parts—Night Songs, Appendix A, and Appendix B—the text in Appendix A is gleaned completely from Victorian guides to music appreciation.
The theme never leaves that of music or its world. The poems become pieces in their own right, miniature arias containing worlds speaking to transformation—in the sense that music is an embodiment of transformation, with its sections and movements and transpositions—and transformative possibility overlaid with velvety trills or containing undertones of rumbling dissatisfaction: the ordinary dons a gown and takes the stage. And beyond the transformation sometimes hides transmogrification, as in “Hôtel Dieu,” in which the halls of the opera house are “dim and twisted like the neck of a harp.”
In Darling’s prose is a sense, an atmosphere made up of interstices and liminal spaces and things that hold the potential to transport and to become other than themselves, and then, to exceed themselves, i.e., the cellos and windows of “Les Fenêtres”:
…Behind each door, you dust locks, turn hinges, dragging your signal flares and your phosphorous glow. A yellow light catches spots in each pane as we count the saints on dim clerestories. Soon I ask, one word at a time, mouthing into the watery dusk: Est-que je ne suis pas une fenêtre?
Music, as these poems evidence, is a reflection of the world, of life, of love, and everything in between: the world comes alive through music, the poetry of the soul. The music of these poems and their language enchants and draws the reader in like a haunting, distant melody. The poems capture the spaces around music—the rests, breaths, fermatas—the anticipation of the first chord of an initial performance, the moment when the piece has ended, the echoes and strains of a melody from another room, the restlessness of the audience. In “The Patron,” music seems even to rest within the spaces of the concert hall:
She recalled the thin wooden railings from her last visit, when they found canaries nesting in a corridor. Tonight, their song waxes with her restlessness, ticking like a metronome into the dark blue night.
Whereas the poems of the main section of the book, Night Songs, serve as interpretive pieces, the pieces in Appendices A and B serve as the theory. Darling has not missed a beat: she acknowledges that music is made up of both the technical and the creative. From Appendix A: Collages and Found Texts, “II”:
—The universe moves in rhythm,
ought to be declaimed
With each line, pulses can be felt & these
divide both poetry & music—
The poems of Night Songs, a symphony in three movements, like a flawless performance, resonate long after the members of the orchestra have left the stage.