Joseph Cornell was an American sculptor and a maker of assemblage, a recluse, and according to several biographical sources, rarely left his home in Flushing, New York. During his long career he constructed dozens of ornate boxes that related small narratives between the spaces of reason.
According to the Oxford Dictionary,an assemblage is a collection or gathering of things, but also people. Within the same mindset as Cornell, who collected Victorian imagery with breathtaking vision and clarity, Kristina Marie Darling has collected her own poetic narrative of a young woman and the inventions that preoccupy her attention in the excellent collection of poetry, The Moon and Other Inventions.
Darling invokes Cornell in the title of the book, and in doing so lays the heavy hand of another artist’s work on the collection. To prevent the weight of his presence from becoming too overwhelming, Darling has leveraged footnotes as a way of invoking mystery and play.
The device is simple—footnotes live in the margins, but the broader narrative that these pieces are built upon is missing. Instead of filling in the page, Darling asks us to imagine the world she’s describing with only some of the pieces in place. In the boredom and loneliness of this isolation come inventions, inventions begat of missing stories, remnants of the past, and memories that disappear.
Imagine the clichéd image of am immense puzzle in which many of the central pieces are missing. While in a lesser poet’s hand this technique might leave the reader wanting more, or indeed feeling cheated by a trope, Darling’s adept use of language and structure makes for an exciting read.
Chapter one—”A History of Inventions”—sets the tone for the rest of the collection. A young woman sits by the window with an apparatus as the moon ascends. Many questions arise:
Why is this woman a footnote?
What great thing has relegated this young woman to the sidelines?
Is it the distraction of the apparatus?
Or is this a grander metaphor of our own distractions from nature?
When we receive a definition for aperture in the fourth footnote of the collection, we understand that in receiving only footnotes, we are only looking through a small opening ourselves and might only see a small part of the picture. Some of the above-mentioned questions arise, but no answer is given in our narrow view of the whole.
There is also trickery here—some pieces of the assemblage, marked by quotations, have a glimmer of David Shields to them. The rare use of quotation marks give portions of the text a sense of authority that might otherwise be missing. The quotes also suggest pulled artifacts–and isn’t history just another form of assemblage constructed from pieces and sometimes untrustworthy sources?
For all the great possibilities of the apparatus that were introduced in chapter one, the young woman we follow is left unmoved and cold by the mechanisms and the humming activity of invention. Something is missing.
Although no time period is mentioned in the piece, the words “Viennese astronomers” in the second chapter have the flavor of antiquity. The mind is thrust backward in time. “Cold metal gears” have a Victorian feel, bringing to mind the work of Cornell, who used kitsch Victorian imagery in his work. After Darling’s brief lines about cold metal gears, a lens is broken, suggesting the aperture might no longer be so limited, and that we might finally gain a better glimpse at the woman in the footnotes.
In chapter three, “Horology,” we realize that the scope of vision has, indeed, increased. The woman at the window is no longer preoccupied with small devices—her gaze is now pointed toward the moon. Another definition, oscillate–defined as both a moving back and forth, as in the heavens moving, but also a wavering back and forth of focus and opinion—makes for an about face. Following this lead, the footnotes’ focus wavers from the heavens towards machinery, then back to history once more.
Then comes chapter four, “Ornithology,” or the study of birds. The thoughts of mechanical development and annihilation has turned the footnoted woman towards nature, or rather, the bird caged in her room. The feathers of the bird, something that was once beautiful and a natural quality the woman wanted to preserve now acts as a camouflage for the “hollow bones” that “lay shattered beneath tufts of green and scarlet.” Overwrought is defined later, and we do not wonder why—the woman is overworked and frustrated, as the preceding tale of her smashed machines delicately display.
Then, perhaps, we receive the most important definition of the entire piece: Überest—translated from the German as “remnant.” Out of all the mechanical devices the woman has made, nothing remains but a gentle humming.
The woman tries to make a recovery in chapter five, titled “Music,” by dedicating herself to musical scores and arrangements, where the mind is allowed to be free and the unconscious mind appears. Though for a moment we glimpse the woman’s possibilities, the musical scores is also damaged, burnt at the end. This is her descent.
The narrative takes a dramatic curtain call in chapter six and seven (Darling doesn’t evoke the images of an opera earlier in the piece for nothing). The woman is now busy making maps, and in the process finds her own borders closing in. In response, she turns her gaze to the moon, her purpose to map the mountainous ranges of our closest neighbor. Though she’s turned away from the reclusive home which was threatening to destroy her, the moon itself is its own poison.
Regardless of how you choose to read this collection—as a grand Victorian narrative, or a fragmented artifact of a false history—disregard my own arranged collection of thoughts: Kristina Marie Darling’s poems are enchanting, haunting, and make whatever assemblage you might impose upon it strikingly real.
The Moon & Other Inventions, by Kristina Marie Darling. Buffalo, New York: BlazeVOX Books, 2012. 66 pages. $12.00, paper.
Daniel J. Cecil is an American Writer living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He is an editor for the literary and arts journal Versal. Daniel’s work has appeared in HTML Giant, Creature Mag, and several other publications.