by Kristina Marie Darling
Vardaman Books | 2012
Louis Sullivan, in the early 20th century, coined the phrase “form follows function” referring to modern architecture, though his assistant Frank Lloyd Wright made the phrase popular, shaping it to his own use. Kristina Marie Darling’s book of poetry is something that Wright’s poetic sensibilities might understand: every sentence, mark of punctuation, footnote, and chapter heading in this small book dictates a reason to be there. Not ambiguously “there”, as in “in this book”, but there as in “on this page in this place.” Even the objects that a poem discusses are distinct in place: “’So you see,’ she whispered to the connoisseur, ‘that one’s foot may not inhabit the shoe until a song of mourning has been properly sung’” (19).
The book’s form is unique, as each reader’s experience with it. In Compendium, Darling takes her ghosts and makes them your own. She uses each small (6’’ x 4’’) page to show you that she is aware of the shape of things and how these shapes can give voice to any spirit. “A circle of violets etched in the walls of the jewelry box. Only when she lifted its lid would the gears in her heart begin to turn” (30). She shows you the difference between a ghost whose mouth makes a circular O and the spirit of a girl who smiles at you when you open your eyes to her, sitting beside your bedside, reading one of your books. The characters of these poems seem alive, but something about them haunts.
Ones job in reading Compendium is to piece the nouns together, while listening to the language dance, though Darling is sure not to mix metaphors. Who is the “connoisseur” to Madeleine, and what exactly is he a connoisseur of? What weight do the locket, the box, the dress, hold for our main character? And is Madeleine really our main character, or is it the connoisseur we secretly admire? There is something dated, ancient built into this tiny, new book that makes it heavier than it seems. Towards the end, there is a page header “Footnotes to a History of the Victorian Novel”, that makes us wonder if we are looking at the Palimpsest (an earlier header) of a Victorian novel never written. But who is the author? These questions and more are not elements that bother, but elements that make a reader want to wander back through this small book.
As the book neatly toes the lines of genre, the collection of poems is in one way a story, but it comes to you like a bizarre puzzle in a box that readers will be continually excited to open and solve. Darling does her job just right: she builds you the box, handcrafts each piece, and promises you that they all, somehow, do fit together.
This book of poetry, originally released by Cow Heavy books, was rereleased in 2012 by Vardaman Books.
Review by Kimberly Ann Southwick