“Within every box, I found only compartment after compartment.”
1. Petrarchan is Kristina Marie Darling’s 8th book, published by the ever controversial Blaze Vox Books. (Yikes. Remember that whole thing? I still have love for the Vox, though.)
2. Much in the way she “took liberties with H. D.’s letters” in THE BODY IS A LITTLE GILDED CAGE, Darling uses ekphrasis, careful appropriation, erasure, and the work of Petrarch and Sappho (the latter, via Anne Carson’s translations) to achieve her grand illusion.
3. Kristina Marie Darling’s voice as a writer is unmistakable and unshaken regardless of mode or form. Of this, I am thoroughly convinced.
4. In fact, one thing that has repeatedly struck me about Kristina is how much larger in stature her writing voice is than its author. To be clear, this is not to reduce her as a person, but to exemplify her work as a force. Often, in an effort to amplify one’s voice over the din of modern media, the artist must become a personality first in order to gain potential interest in the work. Unfortunately, it becomes easy for the latter to suffer in the shadow of the former in the race. Darling reminds me that there is still a strong argument to be made as an artist for placing one’s ambitions squarely on the body of one’s art.
5. This is to say that I have no idea whose parties she attends, under which influences, et cetera, but I damn sure know when it’s her voice there on the page.
6. The reader will find in Petrarchan Darling’s familiar signature use of spare narrative and spectral imagery driving a carefully plotted course of marginalia and footnotes. To be fair, it is doubtful that anyone who is unconvinced or maybe even still undecided about her work in general will be swayed by Petrarchan. However, those of us who are believers or even simply interested parties will take comfort in knowing that what is gold still shines.
7. Tangentially, I have been thinking a lot about appropriation and erasure lately. As a writer who uses both at times almost criminally, I think a lot about what constitutes successful employment. After all, as some will invariably argue, can’t anyone do it? The short answer, of course, is yes. But to make a piece of erasure or other appropriation both successful and original despite its sources, I believe what the author chooses not to use, and why, becomes equal in importance to what is used, and how. The author must rely on the source text to some degree, but the artistic voice of the finished piece should stand on its own. Darling’s work—and Petrarchan is no exception—is as fine an example as any to underline these values.
8. I am thinking about corridors—hands and bricks or wood and the long-form sound of feet moving to some god knows where. I think about corridors a lot I think. I wonder if Kristina does too.
9. It is often easy to forget how the author implies a larger body of text with her use of marginalia as sparse narrative, set toward the bottom of the page, soaking up the white space of the specter it has picked apart.
10. Again, the ghostly presence hovering in the frame of the footnoted sections is largely the work of Francesco Petrarch, whose work I am largely unfamiliar with. I should really make it a point to change that.
11. I have seen Kristina defend her use of marginalia as being to her a subversive act that operates within the territories few outside of the academy are prone to explore. I like the sound of that. I like subversion, and I like her work. Given how gracefully she navigates such an otherwise clunky piece of textual real estate (footnotes), she makes the goal of gifting the dusty part of the page with a riot of its own seem attainable. Many others have built surprises on the parts of the page where so few are traditionally found, but Darling builds her entire world here. It makes me wonder, though, whether she has done her job too well, allowing the reader to forget that he or she has navigated through a creatively rich recasting of traditionally barren country.
12. Corridors again. The thrill of prizing transition over the transitioned.
13. In terms of plot, what Darling’s fragments and broken transmissions sketch together is a darkened kind of love story—one whose terrible terms and conditions are laid out from the story’s onset. Just as the host text has been redacted and modified, so too has our narrator’s “house by the sea.”
14. Rooms open inside of existing rooms to signify the unknown—the layers of ourselves that become known to others only after prolonged or intense exposure.
15. Staircases and rooms cordoned off with ribbon, suggesting in such a story the places inside of ourselves into which we grant no entry, kept deliberately separate, but sustained, only symbolically and by such a thin, thin veil. Clandestine.
16. The fabled “house by sea” closes itself to our narrator, room by room, leaving again only the nowhere in particular of the corridors that had once connected them.
17. “A marble staircase, which he had cordoned off with white ribbon.”
18. “A seemingly endless blue corridor, which leads to an empty room.” (“ON THE SOLITARY LIFE”)
19. “Only when alone did I understand this house by the sea, its faultless architecture. And now a pigeon nesting in every rafter.”
†1. A tendency toward unpredictable behavior.
‡2. A fast growing disturbance or wave in a body of water.
21. “Within every box, I found only compartment after compartment.”
22. “She described their exchange as a ‘staircase burning in a locked house.’ When asked, she would list each of the possessions she had lost in the fire.”
23. Darling’s “He” in this story is nearly as fragmented and closed off from sight as his “house by the sea. Many of the ways in which our narrator describes him are anything but kind or particularly becoming. One might even be inclined to suspect the presence of physical violence. She references here briefly a “ledger [that] documents her gradual overthrow of his elaborate set of rules.”
24. Other descriptions help to sketch our poor, brutish “He” into pitiable existence as much as they betray a fragility—one that might suggest depending on the reader a nurturable human chink in his armor, or a likeness to descriptions of perhaps the most famous dictator of the 20th century, a man I will refrain here from naming.
“When asked, she would describe his attire as ‘militant.’ Yet his hands seemed fragile, even delicate.”
“I remember only the struggle between his decorum and my unfailing warmth. Within every drawer I found the most dangerous objects.”
25. IN WHICH I PARTIALLY SPOIL (and you have been sufficiently warned):
The final two sections deal in erasure as a form as much as they do in our characters’ human states in decline. Destruction, of course, ensues. Without giving all away (or risking catastrophic failure in interpretation), A and B seem to suggest two separate textual shells, each representing a life—one garbed in the shroud of regret, and one who is no longer a fixture of, nor a keeper at, the ill-fated “house by the sea.”
David Tomaloff is the CEO of davidtomaloff.com and sole proprietor of several social media profiles based on the brand, including outposts at Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. He is also treasurer and prime curator at the firm’s Flickr and Paypal offices.