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Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of thirteen books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and (with Carol Guess) X Marks the Dress: A Registry (Gold Wake Press, 2013). She is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Poetics at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo.

Blurbs

These are dispatches of desperation from the world of cake servers, meatloaf, garters, and freshly vacuumed carpet. The Adele of Darling’s poems is ‘prettiest at a distance, the sleeves on my dress neatly pressed, the flowers in my hair a blur,’ and indeed up close these are messy, domestic lives. Evoking the era of Madmen and Revolution Road, the accompanying photos by Kaplan are perfectly styled companions to the materialism and longing captured here.

– Carrie Olivia Adams, author of Intervening Absence

Darling and Kaplan’s achievement is that they find an aesthetic that is oblique without being obscure and that their work is emotional but restrained. Music for another life is a unique book with a strong vision. I will wait eagerly to see more work from this young writer and photographer.

– Rahul Hamid, Editor, Cineaste magazine

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Music for another life

fragmentation and loneliness, the new dance craze: a love note to Music for another life

09/29/14

Music for another life is a collaborative text, a print book with color images (shot by Max Avi Kaplan) and black serif-font text (composed by Kristina Marie Darling) on facing pages. Image and text dance and sway in the reader’s imagination. But taken separately, what work does the set of images perform? And what work the text?

Kaplan opens with the iconic cover image: a female figure in a red dress. She is blonde, gloved, resting on the grass, her eyes closed. We see her, but she does not see us. In the next image, she stands, red skirt, gloved, handing a letter in the direction of something or someone we cannot see. Then she looks into the afternoon sun, her gaze opposing the gaze of the greek goddess in relief behind her. She pauses, red fingertips to red lips, looking down, still not making eye contact. And then she descends the entry stairs of a building, stepping away from the goddess in relief. She looks out, for a ride, maybe, handbag clutched tight. A solar flare lights her face, still looking into the distance past the viewing subject. A misplaced halo. For the first time, her context is natural, trees and sky rather than built environment. She stands in her red suit next to the building, poised as though an argument were arriving, or a mother in law, or a firing squad. And then, the image again of the cover and frontispiece: red suit, gloves, blonde hair, lawn. She stands before the butterfly bush in her sleeveless floral dress, no gloves, Raybans pulled forward for a better look. This is the first time she gazes directly at us. She places the sunglasses onto her face. She is at the beach, just a palm tree and sky behind her, her arms akimbo. Like a doll. She is playing with her sunglasses again. On a hammock at the beach, sunglasses removed, we see that her blonde hair is a wig and her floral dress a fifties swimsuit. On a blue chaise cushion, from just above her, just the top of her blonde wig, her white arms splayed from elbow to fingertip, ungloved hands open. We don’t know if she can see us. She relaxes on the chaise, water in the distance, her gaze away from us toward something inland. We reposition to be next to her. She looks at us again. A pout, a plea. She is in the garden among the hydrangeas. She stands in a stone courtyard, ungloved, clutching her handbag. Her sundress pinched at the waist, heels like pegs beneath her feet. She stands, arms stiff, like a doll. A shot from the ground in front of her. She looks at us. Has she been crying? Is she trying not to cry? We think one or both might be true. She turns to walk away. She looks away, pillbox hat at the back of her wigged head, classical architecture behind her. The hat is a turban wrapped like a swami’s. She pouts before a Georgian porch. We stand beneath her as she looks over the railing, her ungloved fingertips painted red as talons. A halo of clouds. We step back. She stands at the railing, testing the sharpness of the black iron finial with a red fingertip. We are now meters away from her. She has climbed the railing and is standing on the lower rung, looking out past us. She has reached the gate. She caresses the finials, thinking. And then she is at the edge of the lawn, near the trees, arm outstretched to whatever might save her.

Neck deep in the swimming pool, she floats. She comes to the edge of the pool and hangs on to the side, her forearms relaxed on the blue tile. Her hands on the blue tile. A wedding ring on one hand, a bracelet on the other wrist. Relaxed.

But of course this story the images tell is nothing like the story the text provides. The images provide us a narrative from the outside, the story as a stranger would see it, the story of a woman who has manufactured an image and presence for public display, a story we have been enculturated to accept and read and participate in as we construct our own physical and visual identities.

Kristina Marie Darling’s text “makes its own rules for itself, and for itself alone,” as Robbe-Grillet writes that the new novel (and novelist) must do. Each page offers a collection of narrative detail that seems both discordant and unrelated to the facing image. The elements of each page’s collection do not necessarily cohere. Only in the long read, as the reading subject collects and aggregates the layers of detail from page to page to page, does the coherence occur. I found myself reading and re-reading the text to loop the narrative strands together: the narrative voice, the marriage, the social expectation and the protagonist’s response, the comments on fashion and expectation, the emptiness, the loneliness. The loneliness. Darling’s narrative tessera begin as fully formed sentences and then fracture and fragment as the story draws on until, at the end, on the final page, we have shards of text, five abstract unrelated sentences followed by two images in fragments. From the “bluest eyes” and wedding-cake of the first page of text to the “unsuitable blue sky” and “dust ... settl[ing] on the hem of my dress” on the last, the movement from hope to resignation is both magical mystery tour and confession. Adelle plays her part in the images; Adelle comes apart in the text. And together, that brittle, fragile dance of what seems and what is are the deep gift of this beautiful, haunting book.

I love this book. It requires work; or it doesn’t. You can look at it as a curiosity, a set of intriguing musings and gorgeous, quirky photographs. Or you can sift through the layers and fragments and, as you suture together what Darling and Kaplan have created, find yourself somewhere in the thread (or even the needle).

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