Commentary: “Night Songs” by Kristina Marie Darling

Night Songs by Kristina Marie Darling

Night Songs is a lovely, haunting collection: each piece flows into the next, the way music settles into the corners of a room during intermission. Kristina Marie Darling has crafted poems about music that move like ghosts: each poem a note of music that seems to chime in my ears long after it has become inaudible. There is a sense something has been forgotten. I drift through these poems, pressing my palms into wallpapered rooms. I can hear the slamming of blue shutters. What have I forgotten? “Outside, the evening [opens] like a black umbrella” (9).

Night Songs is the sort of poetry collection I seek out. In Of Human Bondage, W.S. Maugham writes:

Now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me….there are certain things that have a peculiar significance for one, and they open a petal; and the petals open one by one; and at last the flower is there. (413)

This collection is one such flower: a pale, frosted rose. The gorgeous, atmospheric poems skirt the edge of the subconscious and rumble when read aloud. As I read Night Songs, I wander the halls of an abandoned building that somehow feels familiar.

The first section consists of prose poems, linked by a twinkling chain of images: a cello, teeth, windows, an old opera house, wings, a hum, the moon, foliage, applause. These poems are strange and dreamy, without seeming intentionally so. There is a whisper of restlessness, quietly mimicking the way the poems seem to echo:

ENNUI

You walk past a crystal decanter glistening near the harpsichord. Since our guests left for the ocean, with its dark enclaves and its low mumbling, the lakes have done nothing but rain. And our dim halls become more cavernous with every evening. When I ask why the rooms buzz with damselflies, you merely nod your head. The shutters blow open and closed. Our parlor hums like trees shifting before a storm. (16)

At this point in my reading, I realized the poems glisten. The crystal imagery is appropriate: the words make me think of the clink of a decanter stopper. Darling is adept at using language to create entire scenes of onomatopoeia. The images help me hear the sounds of the moment before I form a clear picture of it in my head. In “ENNUI,” I can literally hear the speaker’s boredom.

Certain poems are mysterious. “THE TENOR” suggests a woman swept away by song and memory:

It’s evenings like these I think he’s singing again, all diaphragm and gusto, his arms outstretched with the dark blue notes of La Bohème. Even the crystal begins to hum. Yet when the chorus starts up, crooning languidly into the greenish night, a colorless moon hangs speechless in every window. The only sound—a beveled mirror shuddering in its frame. Then the room grows still like a little bell chiming on the hour. (24)

Section II is experimental: a collage of text borrowed entirely from Victorian guides to music appreciation. I would not have realized it, had I not read the notes. Darling has arranged the text in a way that sounds remarkably like her own voice. I particularly enjoy this piece:

VII.

—Consider
the very nature of cleverness,
which renders it liable

to mislead itself
or other people.

Confront it with something indescribable—

the music
that lies within the husk of things

possesses its ruin—

as if a spider should mesh his legs— (48)

The text does not seem old-fashioned; instead, it adds to the collection’s otherworldly tone.

The third section consists of a series of poems that sound like snippets of the first section’s poems as they echo in a room with a vaulted ceiling. The placement of the words on the page mirrors the collage poems of Section II:

VI.
The music begins                                      & I think of

its tangled heart. O
yellow moon,            nerve wracked
song                 like a                 house,
unlit. (55)

 The entire collection of night songs is a strange, ethereal symphony in three movements. “As the lady sings, light in her hair becomes a constellation, its points aligned in the pale November sky….[Kristina Marie Darling] sings and sings” (14).


You may find a copy of Night Songs here, here, or here.

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Commentary: “Tape for the Turn of the Year” by A.R. Ammons

1 March:

today I
finished
a
book-length
poem
by A. R. Ammons:

“Tape for the Turn of the Year.”

I feel a bit foolish.
I thought
“book-length” meant book-length
except I had no idea of the meaning.
I confess: on some level,
I thought
“book-length” meant novel.
How could I have been so wrong?
I still think in terms of character development—
of conflict. The tip
of an iceberg.
Denouement.

Poetry is different. I know this.

I have my own muse. When I was sixteen,
I called her
Louisa. Did I really mean
Larissa? Some shadow self?
Louisa was a ghost. A flapper
from New Orleans. She had backstory.

A life.

I drank watered-down coffee
in Denny’s at 3 AM
and scribbled in pale yellow crayon
to Louisa
on napkins—
on glossy postcards. I couldn’t read
my own words.

But “Louisa”
doesn’t matter.
The Muse matters.

Ammons writes:

because I’ve decided, the
Muse willing,
to do this foolish
long
thin
poem, I

specially beg
assistance:
help me!
a fool who
plays with fool things….

I’m attracted to paper,
visualize kitchen napkins
scribbled
with little masterpieces:
so
it was natural for
me….
to contemplate
this roll of
adding machine tape. (2-3)

I understand this fascination.
I understand what Ammons
has set out
to do.

2 March:

today
I feel a bit different:

When I searched Google
for book-length poems,
I had a particular book-length poem
in mind:
Sharp Teeth
by Toby Barlow.
It’s about werewolves
in L.A.
Still, it reads like
an epic.
Ammons mentions Odysseus, but there
is nothing epic
about his poem, and he
knows it. Simply put,
he wanted to keep a journal
on a roll
of adding machine tape.

It reads like poetry
because of forced line breaks—
crumbled sentences confined
by lack of space—and because Ammons, a poet,

waxes poetic:

[he] can’t tell a great
story: if [he] were
Odysseus, [he] couldn’t
survive. (8)

I have been unfair. So, too, has Ammons.
His month-long sliver of recorded life
is anything but dull. It is often
weird:

silence,
broken by keys:

*
* * *
* * * *
* * *
*
clusters!
organizations! (51)

There is a plane crash. Ammons discusses
identity. Reality. The weather.
I long for story.
There are shapes. Why not
werewolves?

3 March:

How might I classify
this poem?
Like Ammons, “I’m having
this conversation with a
piece of paper” (46).
Would Ammons and Joyce
have been friends?
This napkin has nothing
to say.

I wonder what Louisa
would have to say? Is she acquainted
with Ammons?

Not much has changed
since December 1963, when Ammons
wrote this piece
on adding machine tape. The Earth continues to warm.
It storms. There is love.

Does “Tape for the Turn of the Year” have meaning?
I suspect Ammons
is a deconstructionist,
even though I’m not entirely sure
I know

what that means.

(I’m not writing
on a napkin, though no one would believe me
if I were.)

Ammons loses steam—he types one word per line
in one section
on 14 Dec. He knows his project

is more novelty

than journal
than poem.

Perhaps he wants to seem a deconstructionist.
Does he simply want
to keep a journal
on a roll of adding machine tape?

I do.

This commentary
is a new
beginning.

There is no red ink. There is no tape.

This commentary isn’t
the end.

I’ve given
you my
emptiness: it may
not be unlike
your emptiness:
in voyages, there
are wide reaches
of water
with no islands: (204)


You may find a copy of “Tape for the Turn of the Year” here or here.

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“Instant Crush”

Instant Crush
Daft Punk

“And we will never be alone again…”

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