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Review of Petrarchan by Kristina Marie Darling at Word Riot

Review of Petrarchan by Kristina Marie Darling at Word Riot


Petrarchan by Kristina Marie Darling

Review by Carlo Matos
Kristina Marie Darling’s Petrarchan—her second collection from BlazeVOX [books]—takes on the sonnet sequence of the reverend, forlorn lover of the Western literary canon, Francesco Petrarca. Darling, although she admits to admiring Petrarch, was drawn to the Renaissance sonnets because of the problematic object position of the beloved, Laura. As she says in an interview with Lightsey Darst at Word Riot,
there was more of a “thesis” than with my previous projects. I love Petrarch’s work, but it’s so problematic for me as a female reader. His writing, perhaps more than any other one person’s work, has been associated with the male gaze, the silenced beloved, and various master narratives about what love should or ought to be.
Laura is the silent other par excellence, utterly and completely contained by the male gaze, and this is what draws Darling to the text. In my opinion, her erasures, her abandoned footnotes, and her appendices are perfectly suited for the kind of deconstruction evident in the text. She has shown us, in previous books, how versatile these devices can be as poetic forms, but in engaging one of the urtexts of Western poetics, she really demonstrates how powerful they can be at resituating subject and object, viewer and viewed.

At the beginning of the book, we find ourselves in familiar Darling territory—a nineteenth-century woman roaming around a house that is alternately described as a maze, an island, or like a mahogany armoire: “Within every box . . . only compartment after compartment.” For example, the phrase “house by the sea” is repeated five times throughout the manuscript and is referenced obliquely several more times. With each repetition, what might traditionally be considered a bucolic image, of course, only becomes increasingly oppressive—the prison with lace curtains. However, what makes Petrarchan unique in Darling’s oeuvre is that the ensnared heroine—ensnared by love, by convention, by an overmastering heap of love tokens—does not allow the situation to be the whole story. In her previous collection, Melancholia, for instance, the heroine could be described as a collector—a hoarder—slowly being buried in her home by all the mementos of the missing lover—the literal and figurative presence-in-absence of the beloved smothering her life. However, the heroine of Petrarchan is also using the enforced isolation to experiment in alchemy:

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