by Nikki Darling
Digital poetry chapbook / Available at Light & Wire Gallery
The ebook Ascension by Nikki Darling is beyond auto-biographical. I don’t even think it is an ebook. I don’t think it is an ejournal or an ediary. What it is . . . is a mess.
Nikki is a mess.
Her hair is usually a mess.
She has dirty feet. And these are not purposeful things. Nikki’s messiness is a direct result of the time she dedicates to personal branding in other areas. The disorder is a result of neglect.
Nikki frequently neglects form and tries to bypass narrative.
Or so she would have you think.
This ebook is an electronic collage. A tribute to all things Nikki.
A dip inside of her brain.
And I have to admit I don’t like it there.
The music is too old. It makes me uncomfortable. The songs are too polished, thick and unbending with old school veneer. Why can’t she just write a story, a chap book for my hands?
Why the appropriation?
Why the mess?
I’m always tempted to tell Nikki to clean herself up. To clean up her work. To pull up her bra straps. To put on a bra. But her poems won’t wear one.
The inclusion of screens, like mini-experiential pockets of havoc, give insight to the cacophony of song that blares in Nikki’s mind. Music is integral to her work and it isn’t just the sound. Ascension reflects her obsession with all aspects of the music including the performers, the presentation, and the cultural context. The performers, or the artists that Nikki focuses on are none that I am terribly familiar with. They aren’t ones that I enjoy. They are gender-benders and here is the crux of my discomfort. Nikki has an eye for cultural construction and is especially gifted at lifting images and iconography of the past decades up and layering them against one another. Again, this is a collage. There is no clear delineation of gender. Her preference for boys is met with a proclivity for presenting them in feminized forms. Think long hair, short shorts, gliding around on skate boards.
This ecollage is at its strongest in the small paragraphs of text. Here is where the narrative comes. Here is where the cultural decoder, the critical investigator of gender norms, tells us stories. Nikki is very good at telling a story. She makes you uncomfortable and then tells you a story. Something personal. Something about her parents. She overshares. She lays it out. Like a girl exposing her teenage soul over a notebook cover. Nikki never stopped collaging. Nikki lives in a collage.
The appropriation of feminist works within this collage from the likes of Lorde and Anduluza, only highlight the disparity between girlhood and womanhood. There is this fangirl thing for womanhood. It leaves the reader wondering what does it even mean to be a woman? Is it ever not drag like Divine? Is it to have the assurance and competence of Lorde? Does it require the aggressive sound of Aretha Franklin? Because those are things I’ll never have. Is Nikki’s collage indicating that she will never be a woman? She’ll always just be a girl putting together collages of others’ work with her own infused within? Will I always be just a girl? Some sort of beginning version of an illusion of womanhood? I’m not going to get there. I’m not going to be much of woman. This is something I logically understand. Emotionally, I find it difficult to accept.
Nikki’s Ascension is an electronic collage that dances and sings. It lectures and pontificates in little squares of text and blocks of sound. Nothing is fully embodied. No poem fully realized. Nothing is given total focus. Ascension is ambitious. Ascension is a mess. I can’t ask Nikki to clean up her act, because I don’t even know what that would mean. To act cleaner? To quit challenging me? To quit challenging my socially constructed ideas about gender? I’m glad for the experience, but I’m also glad, at the end, to click the “x” box in the corner of the screen and head back to the electronic neighborhoods where things are slower, and the lines more defined.
Sara Gerot lives, reads, and writes in Iowa. She enjoys transitional spaces, like highways and hotels.