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PETRARCHAN by Kristina Marie Darling reviewed on GRL


Check out Gently Read Literature's new spring issue!  In there is a wonderful review of Kristina Marie Darling's new book, Petrachan. Or you can read it below:

Life in the Margins: Kristina Marie Darling’s Petrachan
By Ben Moeller-Gaa
Poetry comes in many flavors. And I suppose that I can be kind of adventurous when picking what poets to read. One that I like in particular is Kristina Marie Darling. I like her work because she is not afraid to work outside of normal conventions and she pushes the reader to meet her half way with her narrative poetry. As a haiku poet, I really appreciate this. Good haiku give the reader just enough of a moment in time for the reader to step inside that moment, look around, become familiar with what is going on and fill in the rest of the scene to complete the work. This causes the poet and the poem and the reader to become one, as it were. Darling’s work does something similar in that she gives me just enough of what is going on to where I can step inside and complete the story myself. Not a lot of poets outside of haiku work this way, but she’s doing a bang up job of it.

When I first picked up Petrarchan, Darling’s most recent book, I experienced something that I wasn’t expecting to feel. I was completely intimidated. The book’s title makes reference to the great writer Petrarch, who is a writer of such literary distinction that he need only be referred to by his last name. The book is sectioned off into chapters named after his literary accomplishments, with two Appendices comprised of text taken from his sonnets. There are also bits of Sappho sprinkled in for good measure. Not being that familiar with the writers, only their reputations and some vague memories of college lit courses, I wondered how I was going to engage with the book. I actually brushed up on both of them via Wikipedia, of all places, before cracking open the black cover with a black and white still life photo on the cover to begin reading. 

It didn’t take too long before I realized something, namely, that the intimidation of Petrarch was a ruse. The story that Darling tells, through her now characteristic footnotes, fragments, and found text poetry, has very little at all to do with Petrarch or Sappho, instead, it is about a heroine who finds herself trapped in a relationship with a mysterious and intimidating man.  

At first I didn’t want to see what was really happening in the text. I wanted to be swept away by the details that Darling provides us, the references to strange documentary films, to love trinkets, to a vast house by the sea filled with endless rooms and hallways. These are the types of details I’ve come to know and love from Darling. But what unfolds here is something a little different. What unfolds, at least for me, is a true, but wonderful, literary tragedy. The heroine that Darling paints a picture of is one who is trapped in another man’s bibliography. She has no story to tell within their life together and so her story, her words; her life has been relegated to the margins of the page. She is only alive in the footnotes and in the fragments of poems and letters left behind.

It is a truly remarkable thing that Darling does here. She has taken the stylistic traits that followers of hers have come to know and love and take them to new heights. It is rare that a book’s format is so closely tied to the existence of its lead character, even more so for a book of poetry. It is sure sign of the growing mastery of her skills as a poet. I have read the book several times now and can honestly say that Kristina Marie Darling’s Petrarchan is one highly recommendable and addictive piece of literature. I can only imagine where she will go from here. 

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