Melancholia (An Essay)
Kristina Marie Darling
On Sunday-display at my coffee table is Kristina Marie Darling's Melancholia (An Essay), an unraveling - through science, history, nature - of loss and the residue of loss, or the collection of objects still to be thrown out afterward. Darling enthusiasts know her by now as a great maker of lists, hidden texts, reflective footnotes to poems or dreams of poems and other works - and she does perhaps her best work in this medium, in this obsessive interplay of what constructs or is left unsaid within a poem or memory.
Melancholia opens and closes in this same pedigree. It is a careful assemblage of definitions, histories, footnotes, all desperately sewn together in the clumsy-sad way of self-comfort through the adoption of meaning after a great event. Take this definition of "noctuary," which prefaces a series of jewelry-obsessed glimpses of the same name:
1. To keep a record of what passes in the
night. 2. To wake from a dream - to begin a
series of portraits instead. 3. To depict the
beloved and discover cracks in his perfectly
white teeth. 4. To experience a heightened
awareness of one's senses. 5. To ask, to
consider, to be led away from. 6. To examine
a familiar painting - to imagine a blank canvas
in its place. 7. To select and omit, as a poet
Here, Darling seems to directly echo her own theory for poetics. Count the pages of Melancholia and find each displaying one or more of these alternative definitions as its own philosophy.
Be aware - - Darling relies entirely on a Victorian sense of catalog and ritual, opting to almost entirely suppress the events, both actual and emotional, of this melancholy in favor of collecting jewelry and documenting birdsong, which shapes the breathing of this little book. This can make the experience of pain - and the love that presumably preceded it - feel contrived or artificial. After all, it is a difficult task to ask a contemporary reader to place himself within the context of a Freudian discourse on sadness and expect him to feel the whole sweet gruesomeness of it.
That isn't to say that Melancholia fails to accomplish this. Where it succeeds most is in the moments where the facade of documentation allows holes through which the reader may encounter, almost accidentally, the exact weight of the events surrounding and within this emotional period. Take, as example, a footnote from "Footnotes to a History of the Beloved:"
1. The use of physical coercion.
2. The relative strength or duration of an emotion.
3. An unpleasant or destructive natural force. (40)
What Darling does is to entrench a pretty, ceremonious, and painfully human truth - to love and stop loving or, worse, to love and stop feeling loved and to be left with so many remnants of the fact - in the familiar act of fingering the pages of a history book or reading an age old love story so far removed from current reality that it has become safe and to allow oneself to channel personal loss through this medium or the ritual of it. Ultimately, this is a book that details the re-manufacturing of an identity at the point of waking from a lowest low. It is now available from Ravenna Press.
For more information on Kristina Marie Darling and her work, please visit kristinamariedarling.com.
For review requests, additional information, or middle of the night conversation, please email Kat Dixon at email@example.com.