Kristina Marie Darling’s newest, Vow, feels like a close revision of her previous, Petrarchan. Whereas the latter framed psyche as domestic space, Vow’s conceit is similar but more socially exigent. The manor of Petrarchan is now a solipsism shared by two egos – the home of newly-weds. Here, the vow of marriage becomes an ironic tension between how we connect to the world outside of our subjectivity, and how, in our loneliness, we, through marriage, inherently idealize human-connection.
Formally, Darling casts impressionistic anxieties as footnotes in tension with empty pages. The whitespaces seem to render life outside of matrimony as a kind of sublime, and in the narrator as an existential anxiety – a tragic need for import — but Darling’s ennui is highly energetic. After all, her house is burning:
The fire grew larger and larger. It surrounded the house, consumed the meadow, ruined my trousseau (19),
and it is hard to know whether it is the daunting freedom of the white-space, or the dramatic text beneath it that undermines the other. If the white-space is external to the house, then it is the meadow, now burning — thus vulnerable to the text. If the text can only see the white-space as the meadow (backyard) of its own domesticity, then it is a facile projection and only really burns itself. There is no way for the self to mediate the delusion of this love, because it cannot think outside of that love’s paradigm — the white-space is reflexive: a construction, in the first place, of the narrator’s deeper, more relevant anxieties.
Vow is fraught with ironic disconnections that free and bind the couple. “What does a wedding dress not resemble?” she asks (1). “Shattered glass,” she replies. Here, Darling follows the image of a gown logically. The dress does not resemble shattered glass, and yet, the assertion is both disconnected and emotionally clear. It means precisely. Near the end, “a wedding dress actually resembles… fallen branches,” which, off the heels of the preceding texts, strains reality with more stress than before, but affirms more powerfully Vow’s circuitousness, and the failure of cultural norms to support self-actualization. If the couple
spends hours making… little box kites, Hoping they’ll bear them over the iron gates… and every time the wind picks up, she senses another tear in the bright yellow fabric(18),
it is because the banality of their faith in the institution of marriage has both assimilated them into a system they only know to trust, and too, forced them to enact their true desires within a convoluted game of devotion.
You even feel this repression in the repetition of terms. There might be 30 images in Vow’sentirety, and yet, Darling connotatively evolves these familiarities through clever shifts of context. If the wedding dress’s shattered glass shares the same poem in which we notice “A man with dark hair looking out a window,” in the following poem, the man is refigured as “a shattered window over-looking a desert,” (11-12). For their dearth, Darling’s prose blocks conceal a lot of unpredictable movement in their precision — perhaps the most exciting tension in the book.
Vow is fully realized. Darling never exposes much about the deterioration of this marriage, and yet in her drained voice, there is an authentic, busy paranoia, which rubs-up against the composure of these poems. Drama ecstatically surfaces through tired impression. It has to, and that it does so in such an incidental way is a strange kind of urgency. Vow is organic because of its craft. It is playfully mechanistic, and somewhere in that tension, its integrity just exists.
About the reviewer:
James Eidson lives in Chicago. His work has appeared in H_NGM_N, Forklift Ohio, Columbia Poetry Review, Whiskey Island Review, and Black Tongue Review, among others.