August 2013

Daniel J Cecil


X Marks the Dress: A Registry by Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess

Emotions, in a general sense, are elusive even to the most sensitive modern sensibility. Emotions take on camouflage and enjoy their own subterfuge.

To escape existential horror, our culture (being a heavily consumerist one) projects our emotions, dreams, and memories onto objects, using objects as a storage vessel for a fleeting feeling; time capsules are perhaps the most literal example of this.

Thoroughly conditioned in the importance of "things," I collect and make (in the form of writing) objects that I feel match my taste and personality. Sometimes -- to my frustration -- the objects I collect (as opposed to those I make) are used to define my personality. My clothes, my glasses, may define me as a hipster -- a tribe I never specifically stated I belong to. These items -- unfortunately at some times -- define me. It is easy to use the paraphernalia found on a defenseless body, a body sometimes gazed at from afar, where the voice is unheard, to divine and judge.

Poetry and prose have a knack, when in the right hands, for animating cultural artifacts, giving them and the people that use them a voice. Using objects as symbols of power, or evil, or as a device for the telling of a story, is as old as time. But Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess, in their wonderful collection X Marks the Dress, have shown a unique way to use everyday items as a language unto itself.

Beginning at the introduction, objects provide us a glimpse into the ethereal, the qualities of memory, and the object's inevitable emotional attachments. More than just a list, these items give us an indication of the persons we will eventually meet in the poem "stories" ahead:

3-Tiered Steamer
{Pierced Tablespoons}
Silk Flowers, Trussed
{Cups & Saucers}
Crocheted Tissue Box Holder
{Champagne Flutes}
His-and-Hers Key Rings
{Ice Bucket}
Gift Certificate to Victoria's Secret

Who, we ask, collects these objects? And, more importantly, really, where is this accumulation of materials going?

As we move throughout the collection we get scraps -- pieces of fabric, shoes and lingerie, homes, rings, and cake. But more than these being simply found objects and architecture scattered about for atmosphere, they come to define the metaphysical voice of the poems. These objects, more than being just things, have a greater message. An individual does not own them. Instead, the characters are owned and defined by these inanimate items to such a degree that even their emotions are hijacked: "My pink comes from before. Your house breathes faster. Tonight I'll break your heart and leave you street corner easy: besotted, best beast."

The objects surrounding the characters of the book seem in cahoots with doubt, cuckolding spouses, and worry:  "...even the furniture keeps secrets. Behind the divan I find high-heeled shoes, lingerie, a pink lace handkerchief."

Alongside this animation, there is a warning. To deal with the hardest of life's moments and emotions -- betrayal, domination -- the characters inhabiting these poems become nothing more than objects themselves. All this talk of objects might seem wearying, but the characters are also aware that they are becoming obsessed with kitsch, that they are being defined in ways they are uncomfortable with: "Sometimes I'm a woman, too: stiletto heels and a blue silk bra."

In the book, emotions are sidestepped in a way -- the importance instead is on the objects. By making the emotions of the characters somewhat impersonal, mediated through the language of things, the whole is more powerful. It asks us to imagine our own memories, our own acquaintances, to fill these holes, fit in the clothes, to be discovered under cracked plates and empty teapots.

Objects are more than people -- they also become places: "Forked road, forks, and a flask for a picnic."

In passages such as these we're being led to a certain point -- that of understanding -- that the characters that lived in these moments are defined by something other than themselves. In this there is sadness. They are lost in a jumble of material goods. We do get small histories -- breakups, confessions, and dark secrets that remain hidden to all but the poets themselves. But when we do get a glimpse of life's dramas, they take second place to use and consumption.

The title of X Marks the Dress suggests something missing -- like an algebraic equation we must solve for a missing element. In a way, the cultural artifacts inside the book reveal an absence we may very well live in today -- that the objects we have in our lives are themselves creating ghosts of people, spirits without bodies.

In the field of archaeology, culture is, in a sense, a group of artifacts assembled as a sketch of a period. What is left behind when our generation is gone is what we make, what we leave behind. This may be a sad and harrowing thought, but, in a strange way, the items we leave incorporate our ghosts, and through them we can live forever. Perhaps in this throwaway culture we should rethink what we surround ourselves with.

X Marks the Dress: A Registry by Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess
Gold Wake Press
ISBN: 978-0985919153
102 pages