Kristina Marie Darling’s Failure Lyric in many ways continues the work she started way back in Night Songs in both form and content. This is not to say one cannot enjoy it in isolation, only that her work openly invites the reader to consider how the current project represents a continued refinement of or variation on her favorite themes. For example, like many of its predecessors, Failure Lyric centers on a failed or failing relationship, contains erasures, and is told from the perspective of a woman whose beloved has vanished (or is vanishing) from her life. There is also the terrible silence, the deathly, museum-like landscape, and the overmastering desire to preserve and catalogue. For those who know Darling’s work, you will recognize the frozen garden of Requited, the glass curio cases of Melancholia, and the doomed epithalamia of X Marks the Dress (co-written with Carol Guess)—among many other similarities.
In many of her earlier books, the female protagonist tended to be trapped in the home, buried under a pile of lover’s tokens, old love letters, and painful memories. However, in Requited, we get the first instantiation, I think, of a heroine on the move, of a lover on the run, chasing after or being chased by the ghosts of failed love. It is this heroine that concerns us here: “At first, you didn’t quite understand. How I carried all that grief from city to city.” But what really sets this book apart from its predecessors is the strange prescient failure of the relationship; that is, we see the marriage begin and end at the exact same time. To say the lover is lost is not quite accurate since he is, for much of the book, still in the picture. It is more to the point to say that the failure of the relationship is a definitive part of its inception. For example, the husband keeps calling her by the wrong name; a double shows up at the church wearing her wedding gown, and the priest dies in a car accident and never makes it to the ceremony. In “Sad Epistle V,” near the end of the book, the speaker says,
we wanted only to .
see something being shattered.
Darling usually works so hard, in my opinion, to find ways to conquer the silence, to overcome the negating power of loss, but in these poems the protagonist is often described as being unable to speak. “I tried to kiss you, but my mouth was frozen shut” and “Even in / the midst of violence, she finds herself unable to speak” are but two examples. Failure Lyric brazenly embraces failure, as the title suggests, but it does not pretend to find enlightenment or solace where there is none. In a culture so obsessed with success and so determined to find paltry “lessons” where there are none, Darling’s hard look at love and loss is a refreshing and much needed counterexample.
About the reviewer:
Carlo Matos has published several books of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, including The Secret Correspondence of Loon & Fiasco (Mayapple Press) and It’s Best Not to Interrupt Her Experiments (forthcoming Negative Capability Press). He has also published in many journals like Iowa Review, Boston Review, and Rhino. By day, Carlo teaches writing at the City Colleges of Chicago and the Rooster Moans Poetry Coop, by night, he trains cage fighters and kickboxers. After hours he can be found entertaining clients at the Chicago Poetry Bordello. He blogs at carlomatos.blogspot.com. Follow him on twitter @CarloMatos46.