The Object that is a Poem: Kristina Marie Darling’s The Moon & Other Inventions
By Conley Lowrance
Few contemporary poets can boast of writing at the feverish speed of Kristina Marie Darling. It seems most are content to have stray poems published every month or so, a book out hopefully before they’re thirty, maybe another in a year (two years?). Not Darling. Since the publication of her first book, 2010’s Night Songs (Gold Wake Press), Darling has completed and published eight others and edited a forthcoming anthology: narrative (dis)continuities. She accomplishes all of this while completing her Ph.D. Her most recent endeavor, The Moon & Other Inventions: Poems After Joseph Cornell, may be the clearest and most condensed articulation of Darling’s aesthetic to date. Published by Blaze VOX, this wild experiment in language marks the moment in which Darling’s poetry blurs almost indistinguishably with film, objects, and allusions in ways both new and entirely natural.
For Darling to invoke Joseph Cornell as the collection’s patron saint seems only appropriate. Cornell, by all accounts a shy if not reclusive and lonely romantic, was a sculptor and filmmaker who was fascinated by Surrealism and Hollywood starlets, though the depth of his interactions with both were minimal. He created boxes that contained objects and birds and his most famous film, Rose Hobart, was a collage created from the B movie East of Borneo. The women he loved found him sweet, but a little too odd, and he suffered from a severe lack of self-confidence after Salvador Dali attacked his abilities as a film maker. But even from examining just the opening pages on The Moon, it’s easy to see how Darling might find a kinship with Cornell, whose works include objects like the Observatory series and the Space Object Boxes. Many of the same objects litter her world—shuffling quietly in the shadows as missing lovers wait patiently next to a favored trinket. Darling opens her newest collection by presenting the reader with “An unspecified type of steel dial, most often used as an ornament,” and thus ushers us into a world that is chilling in the sparseness of its lighting. The pages of The Moon are littered with little machines and trinkets that reveal Darling to be, like Cornell, an artist in dialogue with the physical mystery of a foreign object—a creator obsessed with dismantling and reappropriating others’ creations.
It’s this fascination with objects that most notably separates The Moon & Other Inventions from Darling’s previous collections. Gone are Darling’s prose poems and her fragments of language that drift idly across the page. Instead, she offers us poetry that fully engages the notion of manipulating a book as an object. Each page is left almost entirely blank, marked only by the pieces of language dotted across the bottom of the page in the form of footnotes. As the narrative unfolds, the visual emptiness begins to evoke the feeling that the book once contained thousands of words, pages upon pages of important, scientific text now lost, as if only Darling’s flashes of nocturnal imagery survived some strange and devastating textual obliteration. And then, after seven chapters, language is abruptly gone, and we’re left with appendixes displaying nothing more than maps of the sky and the moon.
Up to this point in the book, however, we have had the chance to follow images of a “she” (a protagonist of sorts? the same “she” present in Darling’s other most recent offering, Melancholia?) who engages, assembles, and reflects on various devices and machines that she uses to study the sky. We never have the chance to watch her, or witness her motions, but instead are allowed only glimpses or intimations of what she has done, discovering that “she calculated the lunar year with greater accuracy than one observes in the Gregorian calendar. Even then she noted deviations in the moon’s trajectory.” Some of the footnotes hint towards the idea that perhaps we are reading what was once some sort of diary, perhaps the heroine’s, reduced now to the bare essentials of a narrative. There are fleeting mentions of “little-known French film[s]” and brief definitions of words, as if we are uncovering not only the protagonist’s scientific discoveries, but odd snapshots into her vocabulary and interests; never finding an image of her, but instead spotting disparate flecks of an outline.
Several times, Darling mentions the correspondences that the collection’s “she” participates in (or rather, used to participate in). The final mention of this undisclosed, forgotten relationship occurs immediately before the first appendix, when Darling writes of “an unpublished portion of their correspondence. Here she states that she did not expect the chemicals to injure, much less debilitate and poison her.” It’s one of the most memorable moments in the collection: have we just learned of the death of our heroine? Have we become privy to the final conversation between two lovers, two colleagues, a brother and sister? Regardless of circumstances (The Moon makes no apologies for its lack of insights or contexts), there’s an unsettling level of comedy to the heroine’s naiveté that squirms beneath the tragedy of her injuries—almost a mocking of her impermanence in a work that should solidify it. While the moments of humor in Darling’s poetry are scarce, they offer a fascinating contrast to the dimly-lit moments of solitude that populate her work. Furthermore, they ultimately create something even stranger than a holistically serious collection of poems could produce: they highlight the events we’ve already encountered and draw us back into the collection looking for new or unnoticed clues to illuminate the series of observations we’ve just experienced.
Darling’s ability to create moments of stark and uncomfortable contrast is laudable in and of itself, but to so successfully reiterate the ability on almost every page, through layout, situation, and language, is a feat few have achieved. But then again, few are willing to reexamine the same moment from fifteen different angles, or offer a narrative through absence. By completing The Moon & Other Inventions, Darling makes the parallels between her poetry and the work and life of Joseph Cornell clear (fascinations of birds, collage, the tactile), while still maintaining an arresting artistic autonomy. But of the two, Darling displays a much clearer sense of self-confidence—a willingness to not only experiment, but to experiment over and over in the public eye, offering more poetry in the last two years than some poets do in a lifetime.