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Review of Petrarchan by Kristina Marie Darling at Word Riot

Review of Petrarchan by Kristina Marie Darling at Word Riot


Petrarchan by Kristina Marie Darling

Review by Carlo Matos
Kristina Marie Darling’s Petrarchan—her second collection from BlazeVOX [books]—takes on the sonnet sequence of the reverend, forlorn lover of the Western literary canon, Francesco Petrarca. Darling, although she admits to admiring Petrarch, was drawn to the Renaissance sonnets because of the problematic object position of the beloved, Laura. As she says in an interview with Lightsey Darst at Word Riot,
there was more of a “thesis” than with my previous projects. I love Petrarch’s work, but it’s so problematic for me as a female reader. His writing, perhaps more than any other one person’s work, has been associated with the male gaze, the silenced beloved, and various master narratives about what love should or ought to be.
Laura is the silent other par excellence, utterly and completely contained by the male gaze, and this is what draws Darling to the text. In my opinion, her erasures, her abandoned footnotes, and her appendices are perfectly suited for the kind of deconstruction evident in the text. She has shown us, in previous books, how versatile these devices can be as poetic forms, but in engaging one of the urtexts of Western poetics, she really demonstrates how powerful they can be at resituating subject and object, viewer and viewed.

At the beginning of the book, we find ourselves in familiar Darling territory—a nineteenth-century woman roaming around a house that is alternately described as a maze, an island, or like a mahogany armoire: “Within every box . . . only compartment after compartment.” For example, the phrase “house by the sea” is repeated five times throughout the manuscript and is referenced obliquely several more times. With each repetition, what might traditionally be considered a bucolic image, of course, only becomes increasingly oppressive—the prison with lace curtains. However, what makes Petrarchan unique in Darling’s oeuvre is that the ensnared heroine—ensnared by love, by convention, by an overmastering heap of love tokens—does not allow the situation to be the whole story. In her previous collection, Melancholia, for instance, the heroine could be described as a collector—a hoarder—slowly being buried in her home by all the mementos of the missing lover—the literal and figurative presence-in-absence of the beloved smothering her life. However, the heroine of Petrarchan is also using the enforced isolation to experiment in alchemy:

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a terrific review of Petrarchan by Kristina Marie Darling, just published in Sein und Werden!


Petrarchan by Kristina Marie Darling is a strange ghost of a book.  The first six sections tell the story of a love affair in footnotes to an invisible text.  At the bottom of each page we find fragments that provide clues to what has been elided; references, definitions, translations, quotes, expansions and explanations, all haunted by the white space above: 

2. She described their exchange as a "staircase burning in a locked house."  When asked, she would list each of the possessions she had lost in the fire. (19)

This house recurs throughout the notes, a series of "rooms opening inside a single room."  Inside the rooms there are cabinets, jewellery boxes, locked armoires, and within them, 'an assortment of disconcerting love tokens' (27), or nothing at all, 'only compartment after compartment' (19).  Secrets within secrets, nestled like Russian dolls, meanings glimpsed from the corner of an eye, the deferral of understanding underscored with the repeated use of the phrase 'only then…'

10. The smallest disturbance seemed to devastate the ocean's pristine shore.  Only then did they determine that the city had in fact been built around an inland sea. (15)

3. "Only then did I understand why the key to his armoire remained hidden from view.  Within every box, I found only compartment after 
compartment." (19)

3. "Only then did I understand the meaning of 'reverence.' Our house began to murmur with tiny silver bells," (25)

The latter sections of the book, Appendix A: Correspondence and Appendix B: Misc. Fragments, are formed from snippets of Petrarch's sonnets, loose beads restrung on white space to create new patterns of longing and desire.  

is a beautiful creation, imbued with the eeriness of found footage, deeply rewarding whether you are familiar with Petrarch or not.  It is a book you want to read over and over, each note deepening the mystery, hours of wondering packed into each sentence.  I will dream about this 'house by the sea' for a long time to come. 

Read the whole review here

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Leah Umansky reviewed in the Brooklyn rail and a reading tour schedule


From Jeffrey Cypers Wright on the Brooklyn Rails' Rapid Transit: 


Leah Umansky
Domestic Uncertainties
(BlazeVOX, 2013)

Leah Umansky admits impediments. In fact, her topos of a marriage-gone-bad is previewed on the cover (she did the collage). A wedding cake couple floats above rocks under a stormy sky framed by flaming red curtains. The poetry is much more subtle but no less vivid.

[ read the whole review here, along with great reviews of new work by Rob Cook and Marjorie Welish.]


Umansky on Tour

Published on Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Leah Umansky has just added new reading dates in support of her debut collection, Domestic Uncertanties(BlazeVox, 2013).

July (Northwest USA)

Umansky’s August dates are still TBA. Keep up with all the latest dates and locations by checking here.

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Arsenic Lobster poetry journal reviews Carlo Matos' books

Arsenic Lobster poetry journal Reviews: 
Review by Jessica Dyer

Counting Sheep Till Doomsday
by Carlo Matos

Big Bad Asterisk*
by Carlo Matos

Let me be really honest with you. When someone writes a book of poems that includes a “flatulence” section, he’s won my eternal love. That someone is Carlo Matos and that book is Counting Sheep Till Doomsday. My eternal love is in the mail.

“There are so few serious songs about shit,” he writes. Oh? Tell me more. He continues, in “In the Spider House”:

To a spider, it is serious like
an old-world table: expectations to be met, a
host’s ancient duty, life and death. They do
not dare laugh at a fart’s deep echo

At the end of the book, Matos and composer Stephen Jean put the words of “In the Spider House” together with music and performance notes. They write, “All ‘notes’ above the middle line of the staff are to be performed as burps or belches; all ‘notes’ below the middle line are to be performed as farts.”


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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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