Reviews, Vol. 5.3, Sept. 2011
Cow Heavy Books, 2011
Perfect bound, 56 pp., $10
Review by Cynthia Reeser
As with much of Kristina Marie Darling’s work, Compendium has the distinct flavor of contemporary Victoriana. Many of the poems contained in the collection are centered around the believable creation and sustaining of an atmosphere; they are interpretive and visually evocative. Darling’s words are like envelopes—they contain more within them, in their multiple implications, than initially expected, and sometimes catch the reader off guard with their presentation of the unexpected.
“Footnotes to a History of Desire” is a poem comprised solely of footnotes. Each annotation seems to hold an entire story of its own, in miniature. A tale in three sentences, footnote 7 reads:
7 The documentary (c. 1996) follows a woman through an analysis of recurring dreams. Despite several attempts to establish boundaries between real and imagined, she continued to describe the fictional beloved. His pale hands and delicate wrists.
“Footnotes to a History of Architecture” functions similarly. The way Darling hangs the elements together is what tells the story. This rendering is accomplished with a sense that an atmosphere or sensibility is drawn from the spaces between the elements, and the spaces, like rooms, that they create in both opposition and complement to one another. In this way, the rendering is similar to that of a frieze, its players captured mid-situation. Being that the poem is footnotes to a history of architecture, the way the pieces or elements work together and against one another is fitting and functional, much like the parts comprising a cantilever serve to balance and support one another and together create the structure of a cantilever as a whole unit; so does the poet create spaces or rooms of interpretation in her poems. For example, footnotes 9 and 10 work together like so:
9 As a result, the girl suffered from a rare form of claustrophobia. Every night she sought a new cathedral. Even the grandest arcades leaning towards her.
10 Note the tiny doves etched into every marble balustrade.
However, I sometimes find myself wishing that there was more of a take-away, something deeper beyond what is depicted. That is in a way, a positive, because her work leaves me as a reader wanting more. That aside, there are multifoliate openings in Darling’s work, little rabbit trails built into the scenery and the metaphor, the interpretation that opens up into what is ultimately a representation of art itself, which functions as a standing collaboration of elements, frozen in their presentations. This idea is confirmed in “An Introduction to the Lyric Ode”:
6. For the work to succeed, one must recognize the difference between life and art. In other words, partaking in a lush pastoral scene is not the same as observing it.
In Compendium, Darling does what she does best. Aside from a few minor editing errors, the book is beautiful in layout and design. Darling has a gift for language and imagery, and for unique interpretations of form that align meaningfully with her work.