Reviews, Vol. 7.4, Dec. 2013
Ravenna Press, 2012
Perfect bound, 45 pp., $10
Review by Cynthia Reeser
The fact that Kristina Marie Darling’s Melancholia is subtitled (An Essay) influences the reading and interpretation, or it does for me; I read it for both truth and contiguity. In keeping with this idea, many of the poems have the words, “a history” in their titles. “noctuary, definition (verb)” begins, “1. To keep a record of what passes in the night.” So this book, then, is a record. Or the story of a record, recorded as verse. Definition 7 from the same poem reads, “To select and omit, as a poet would.” (Or a historian.)
The history, in this case, is of a lover, now absent. In “Noctuary (I),” we are provided with a few key clues regarding the romantic interest, and the nature of his love:
When he fastened the clasp on her necklace,
every nightingale seemed to sing. Their
swollen throats and colorless eyes.
He reminded her of Petrarch, driven by the
necessity of pursuit.
This, then, must be an empty love, or rather, something posited as love by the giver of the necklace, but clearly hollow and not love, as evidenced by the “colorless eyes” of the nightingales. It was a relationship driven only by “the necessity of pursuit.” Later, in “A History of the Jewelry Box” Glossary of Terms,” we find that regarding the locket the lover once gifted, “its frame had always been empty.” Later still, in “Footnotes to a History of Nightingales,” a peek inside the lover’s notebook reveals diagrams of nightingales, within which is “an empty space where the heart once was.”
The idea and image of the machine, of diagrams, is carried throughout the book, and stands in for the inner workings of love or a relationship. The fact of love being represented by a machine points to a love or lover as mechanical, calculated, cold, unfeeling. Images pointing to the emptiness of the love support this idea. See also,
She wanted to understand the innermost workings of this strange machine. Their courtship was a system of pulleys, levers, and strings. Behind a little door, the gears were turning and turning.
Throughout the collection, Darling invokes images of music (representing the beloved’s love and heartbreak), caches of jewelry gifted by the lover, and nightingales and birds (as symbols “for her beloved’s absence”). The history of the relationship develops, poem by poem, image by image. Darling weaves together a fine narrative written between the lines of the histories, glossaries, and definitions. The imagery and symbolism is detailed and the collection as a whole rich with meaning, rewarding multiple readings.