December 2012

Cortney Bledsoe


The Moon and Other Inventions: Poems After Joseph Cornell by Kristina Marie Darling

The Moon and Other Inventions is a collection of footnotes, ostensibly relating to the art of Joseph Cornell, the self-taught, reclusive twentieth-century artist known for producing boxes of assembled found materials. There are no pictures of Cornell's work included with the footnotes, so we have solely Kristina Marie Darling's notes to conjure his work. The book is divided into seven chapters with two appendices. Much of the space on the page is actually blank, with footnotes at the bottom. This space implies a mystery, a kind of hole in the story, but Darling gives us enough pieces to reconstruct a compelling narrative, without lapsing into convention.

Chapter one is "A History of Inventions." Darling begins with notes on what seem to be specific elements of an assemblage, "an unspecified type of steel dial, most often used as an ornament." She creates a kind of narrative through these notes: "She placed the apparatus beneath her bedroom window. The little gears turning as the moon ascended a marble staircase." "She" connects with the machine, assigning emotions such as "faithfulness" to it. As the notes progress, Darling evokes an emotional scene while touching on physical scenes at times. Note eight describes "one of the lesser known experiments, in which scientists were fascinated with the involuntary movements of the female heart." There is tension, also, "as one would expect, the levers produced an occasional shock. Despite the strength of these electrical currents, she claimed that the machine still left her cold." Darling excels at capturing the emotion of a story, while maintaining mystery at its center.

Chapter two is titled "Astronomy." Darling continues to develop this theme of the "she," getting at Truth by measuring the various elements of the moon. But why? Darling alludes to it in note seven: "I had wanted to discover the cold metal gears winding beneath the firmament. Now the most fearful disruption of a delicate machine."

This character creates more and more elaborate machines for measuring elements of the moon. Chapter four is "Ornithology." In addition to explanations of supposed ideas and images, Darling includes definitions in her footnotes. These also help create a narrative, for example, note four, "Overwrought." Darling explains overwrought as "... distressed or agitated," "overly complex or ornate," and "... exhausted by overwork." Here, Darling furthers the obsession with measurement.

Even though the heart of this story remains a mystery, the prevalent theme of longing for the moon is well-developed and compelling. Darling mirrors Cornell's work in that she arranges concrete elements, though a clear meaning isn't necessarily apparent. Darling explains this to us when she gives us the footnote for "aperture," which demonstrates that we're only seeing a pinhole view of this story. There's a Victorian feel to the story of this character searching for meaning in the moon, mostly due to Darling's descriptions of the machine, which seem antiquated.

Darling's style is perfectly attuned to this project. Her prose is lovely, graceful, and evocative. She gives the reader just enough detail without spilling over into melodrama or too much telling. Darling is making a name for herself with these inventive collections; whenever I see her name on a book, I know it will be something new and different and enjoyable.

The Moon and Other Inventions: Poems After Joseph Cornell by Kristina Marie Darling
BlazeVox [books]
ISBN: 978-1609641047
66 pages