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Kristina Marie Darling

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of Melancholia, Petrarchan, & a forthcoming hybrid genre collection called Fortress. Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, plus grants from the Kittredge Fund & the Elizabeth George Foundation.

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"The scintillating variables of time and its complex philosophical relationship with experiential space."

– Geoffrey Gatza

"A delicious catalog of wants."

– Oliver de la Paz

"A narrative of love and identity that unpacks itself again and again.

– Erin Elizabeth Smith

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X Marks the Dress: A Registry

He’s cutting our cake. He’s hugging your mom.

02/14/14

I have been trying to write a book review of this X Marks the Dress: A Registry for months. I’ve been nervous about writing this book review. This is a complicated book, intentionally and fruitfully complicated, but rewarding. It’s an incredible mash-up of voices, perspectives, forms.

Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess have written a book and written a book and written a book. What I mean is, they are getting at the problematic idea of marriage in a variety of ways. The poems are written from varying perspectives, and later include footnotes and then erasures that serve to render the former poems skewed and different. All of this accumulates into what feels like more than one book. Though compact it is certainly a multitude of voices. Marriage isn’t one thing. It isn’t just that.

In Appendix C an earlier poem is almost entirely erased to leave the remaining words:

I can’t decide between/ a candy bride/ a glass cabinet

And neither can the reader. I don’t want to decide. I want to hold all of this book in my  head at once, but I can’t. I want all the contradictions and restatements. I want to understand it all as a truth, because the truth is varied and layered.

Reading this book felt like a kind of game. I flipped between the poems and their erasures to see what actually got erased. What were these words’ original contexts? On page eighty-one, the only words left behind are “I was stolen.” From what, I wondered? I flipped to page seventeen to find its original context. “On Wednesdays she says I was stolen, not birthed. On Thursday, no talking. Weekends are for orphans. I’m so many men in the back of a cab. Husband or lover? Plastic or paper? Sometimes I’m a woman, too…” But if I flip back to the near empty page containing only the words “I was stolen,” I find a different narrative is created. The words lead right into the next page, which reads, “stashed between/my mother/clawing.” I spent a lot of time flipping back and forth between the sections, thinking about the words on their own and in the different contexts this book creates for them.

This book made me think about marriage, about how easily I have accepted its conventions. I’m not married, but it looms as this standard that I haven’t often questioned. It simply is. It is an absolute. It possesses authority. Marriage is and no one can stop it. But that’s not true. I think Darling and Guess are doing important work to look at marriage, what it is, how it’s perceived, what’s wrong with it, what it’s doing to everyone, and the dangers inherent in these assumptions.

We get a lot of information from the footnoted sections, which are footnotes to blank pages. I imagine them as instructions for reading this book. A section of footnote five reads, “The autobiographical novel depicts a heroine’s pursuit of an alternative to marriage, particularly the social conventions governing the ceremony itself.” This points at the book, points at marriage and the idea of a marriage as the standard.

Marriage feels like a kind of intrusion, a thing forcing itself into the picture. My favorite poem in the book is Pizza:

How odd, I said, that a stranger ended up in so many of our photos. He’s even in the photos we took at home. Look, I said, he’s petting our dog. He’s cutting our cake. He’s hugging your mom.

Look. Here’s marriage. It’s in the home. It’s in my head. I didn’t even notice it before. This complicated book with its erasures and footnotes to blank pages and quickly changing perspectives demands a close read and a good deal of thought. As a reader, we are forced to involve ourselves in the work of the text. We’re doing more than simply reading and are therein implicated, held responsible. This isn’t a book to read and put on the shelf and never think of again. This is a book to be read carefully again and again, to be talked about and then leant to friends.

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Carol Guess is an American novelist and poet. Her books Femme's Dictionary and Gaslight were nominated for Lambda Literary Awards. Switch was a finalist for the American Library Association's Stonewall Book Award.

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