Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Kristina Marie Darling's Night Songs

Kristina Marie Darling, author of fifteen previous books and numerous literary awards, has re-released the utterly stunning Night Songs from Gold Wake Press. Originally published in 2010, it is a celebration of music, nature, art, and their various intersections. The book is composed of four sections: the initial poems, footnotes to “A History of Ornithology,” Appendix A: Collages and Found Texts, and Appendix B: Erasures.

The initial section of Night Songs chronicles a succession of nights in which we follow the various points of view of players and observers of music. Characters here “took up sainthood to pass the time” and are ruined by harps. We visit a place where “white teeth glisten like little bells,” the wind turns “like a phonograph within the field’s tangled heart,” light in a woman’s hair “becomes a constellation,” and the throat is a “muted church bell” and a lantern. Images of birds, physical structures, as well as various musical instruments recur throughout the text. Nature becomes both music and machine; we are asked to ponder how music, art, and their performance may also be mechanical.

Night Songs becomes even more engaging as it continues. The footnotes are a fascinating addition because there were no footnotes in the initial text. It seems that Darling may have been inspired by Jenny Boully’s collections The Body: An Essay or Not Merely Because of the Unknown that Was Stalking towards Them, books which also utilize footnotes in incongruous and innovative ways.

The book often takes a philosophical turn, and perhaps the most intriguing line occurs when we arrive at the erasures and found texts, poems largely curated from Victorian guides to music and its appreciation: “There is but one question to be asked of a composition—whether it reverent, & in what sense it is of service--” We must consider if these poems are indeed reverent. What are these poems in service of? I’m not sure if I have concrete answers to these questions, though I do know that I am excited to delve into Kristina Marie Darling’s other works after reading Night Songs.

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