Zoom Blog

Reviews

Women and Ghosts by Kristina Marie Darling is reviewed in The Lit Pub

 

The Erasure and Self-erasure of Women's Voices

02/10/16

The multiple modes of the erasure and self-erasure of women’s voices sit heavy with me this morning. I’ve read a beautiful and daring text entitled Women and Ghosts, by Kristina Marie Darling, which is part essay and part prose-poem, all experimental, where line-throughs, footnotes, multiple narrative lines, and alternating gradients of text are used to tell stories of female negations with silences and near silences—those that speak to the horror one can feel to realize that the acceptance of internalized conditioning to be less, to take up less space, is actually the most dangerous act a woman can commit or condone on a path to empowerment—and these have a long history. Kristina Marie Darling’s Women and Ghosts is a terrifying read, one well worth the time. For me, it felt like a beautiful funeral shroud, a gossamer wrap of a book I was reminded to cut myself free from in order to survive.

In this book, death, denial, self-sacrifice, and romance are inexorably linked. Gender and gender privilege are examined. The author is subversive in her inclusions and omissions, and the lines are meant to be catalysts toward appropriate rage. “In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia drowns under the weight of her own dress,” Women and Ghosts begins. “I had never imagined before that plain white silk could kill.”

But plain white silk didn’t kill, the reader may argue, jarred already by muted color of the words and the obvious falsehood they champion. Since when was a dress capable of killing? Enter now Darling’s world of realigning the reader’s reality by engaging in disruptive discourse. As the author expects the reader to remember, Ophelia, after losing her lover to palace intrigues, drowns herself in Hamlet. Surely her dress is not to blame, and neither is the water in which Ophelia, off-stage, drowns. At a deeper level, all readers familiar with Shakespeare’s play are aware that the lead character Hamlet’s rejection causes Ophelia’s complete self-immolation. And yet, in line one, Darling adjusts the narrative to hide the crime, makes excuses for it, blames a party blameless as a starry night or a sparkling lake, as written history often does, blurring the lines of blame in order to appropriately question them, where the dress in a virginal hue, ode to female innocence or purity, a highly gendered garment, takes betrayal’s place as villain.

Welcome to the nightmare gender labyrinth of refutation and disavowal. Not to read too much into this single line, but I already felt a chill travel my spine to see the exchange of correctly placed blame for self-defeating symbology and experienced a simultaneous awareness that this chill was intentionally created by the skillful author to highlight the contrast text the reader proceeds with as a paralleled modern “I” woman examines Ophelia’s plight and concurrently exists in a terrifying room where lovers spar and the ambient temperature grows colder and colder, as a modern man serves her joint bouts of gaslighting and liquor, tantamount to emotional abuse. Between doses of his cruelty and lack of returned care, in a sort of willful thought departure, the narrator muses on the aspects of Hamlet’s Ophelia plot most difficult and “unsayable,” at one point asking, “But what does it mean to give one’s consent? We are led and misled by those we love…” where a similar facility of displacement puts the reader right into the ghosted narrative of being two places at once, both interred in a historical play with a dead female victim of self-slaughter and standing in the midst of a new tragic history played out, where the “I” protagonist, already muted by pale ink, lives through a similar sort of identity reduction.

It is telling enough that this modern narrator says, “When he smiled, I felt my whole body grow colder,” where it seems as if a man’s cold judgment, masked by the false mirth of a smile, is on deliberate parallel with a lake in which to drown. Darling’s use of white space here, of incomplete interactions, of dissonance in the said/unsaid, is masterful.

Enter Shakespeare’s own words, often, as foil. Boldly on the pages that follow this opening line, interlacing at strategic intervals, the font periodically darkens, and the reader finds lined-through quotes from the bard, carefully excerpted to highlight the age old dilemma of inadequate self-valuation, of lost agency, of roles, one of such line-through excerpts reading, for example, “And I, of ladies most deject and wretched…

Here we see the duality of the work’s intent. On the one hand, this text receiving line-through, seems an empowering strategy where Ophelia’s self-negation is defeated by being struck from the record by a female author. However, it is also a female author’s inclusion of a man’s depiction of a woman’s defeat in darker text than the narrative of the modern fictive woman beside it. As in a painting, a color is best read in context, beside another color—so, surrounded by the pale gray text of the I narrator, the stronger hue of a man’s words, lined out or not, seem to extend the struck sentiment well beyond the century in which it was crafted.

Read The Whole Review Here 

Read more »

K: A 21st Century Canzoniere by I Goldfarb is reviewed in Rain Taxi

 

K: A 21ST CENTURY CANZONIERE

KcanzoniereI Goldfarb 
BlazeVox Books ($22)

by Michael Boughn

I Goldfarb’s K: A 21st Century Canzoniereis a marvel, with all the deep roots of that word (“to wonder at, be astonished”) still living there, squirming around. For one thing, there hasn’t been a book like this in quite a while—it contains 590 love poems, many of them classic Petrarchan sonnets dedicated to a student a good fifty years younger than the poet. Modeled on Petrarch’s Canzoniere, which was written almost 700 years ago, Goldfarb’s 21st Century update is an epic spiritual love poem in the age of online dating and televised courting, an age in which the cynicism about love grows exponentially in relation to its commodification and use. It is “a chocolate paradise of two” that leaves us marveling at its extraordinary accomplishment.

Petrarch’s book was unique. Often identified as the “father of Humanism,” Petrarch approached his relation to Laura, the object of his poetry, as a man in love caught between carnal desire and awe at her purity. No divine vision, a la his predecessor Dante, flowed from that. Instead Petrarch gave us the anxiety of mortal love and desire, the human drive/capacity that was first seen as ennobling and defining and has gone on to become a major, if not the major, commodity in late capitalism, the stuff of every pop song ever written as well as the most powerful marketing tool ever invented.

Read the whole review here

Read more »

Writers Who Read interviews Kristina Marie Darling

 The Writers Who Read series continues this week with Kristina Marie Darling. Welcome, Kristina!

Who are you?
I’m a poet, fiction writer, and critic. My most recent books are Women and Ghosts and Failure Lyric, both available from BlazeVOX Books. I also serve as Associate Editor at Tupelo Quarterly, Founding Editor of Noctuary Press, and an editor at Handsome, the magazine publication of Black Ocean Books.

Which book or series was your gateway into the world of reading?
I loved C.S. Lewis when I was younger, but it wasn’t long before I became interested in nineteenth century Russian literature. Honestly, it’s like I went straight from sipping on a beer to guzzling scotch. Once I read War and Peace, there was no stopping me from reading Crime and Punishment, Dead Souls, all of Turgenev’s fiction, and all of Chekhov’s plays.

Nowadays, what makes you crack open a book instead of pressing play on your favorite Netflix show?
I’ve been traveling to various artist residencies for the past year, so usually, Netflix isn’t an option. Or if it is, there’s a tremendous amount of shame and guilt involved when you’re surrounded by smart, talented, creative people and you’re trying to find out who won on The Voice. And who would want Netflix anyway when these smart, talented artists are offering you book recommendations?

Which authors are auto-buys for you? Why?
If I could hit a button and pre-order everything by Joshua Clover, I would. I admire the ways that he uses the resources of poetry to make compelling interventions into contemporary literary theory. He suggests that poets can make necessary contribution to complex academic and philosophical conversations, ultimately democratizing the act of literary criticism.

Read the whole interview here 

Read more »

Wade Stevenson interviewed on Green Life Blue Water

 

Wade Stevenson

[Photo courtesy of the author]

An Interview with Wade Stevenson

First off, congrats on the success of Flutes and Tomatoes, one of Kirkus Review’s Best Indie Books of 2015. What an honor.

I read Dear You and Flutes and Tomatoes in relatively short order. There is such a full blown range of longing, despair, grief, and, dare I say, an exhilaration in the expression of it all, maybe more emotion packed into two slim volumes than many would experience in a lifetime. So — are you reconciled with the events that took you to such a dark place, maybe at peace, and if so, how did the writing help you to get there?

Writing for me has always been an act of catharsis, of purification, of healing. The stories described in Flutes and Tomatoes and Dear You did indeed take me to dark, difficult places. No one would want to stay for a long time in that kind of emotional cell, and the only path I could find to free myself went through words. The words that make up the fabric of those poems became me. I lived them as if they were real. The events that caused the original pain happened again, in real time. Holding those two books in my hand, I can say, “You are the proof of that love that was lived and lost.” That feeling is one of wonderful release, it creates peace.

Both books were published in 2015. How much time passed between the events and the writing of the books? Did you find yourself agonizing anew as you wrote them?

Both books were published in 2015 because they’re related in terms of their emotional context and impact. Flutes and Tomatoes grew out of an experience I had in Paris when I was in my early twenties. That was in the late 1960s. I still have the notebooks that formed the basis of the book. The story narrated in Dear Youtook place in 1992. I started writing about it then but I couldn’t finish it. It hurt me to finish it, and in one way I didn’t want to finish it because that meant putting closure to it. And I felt I needed to keep the wound open. It’s strange how that happens, no? You don’t want to stop reliving in your memory something that hurt you very much.

Dear You is a very intimate exposé of your feelings at a specific time in your life, but also an intimate portrait of the mother of one your children. You share a daughter and shared a life, the details of which now are very public. I think it would be hard to be written about in such an intimate fashion. How does the Mlle. X. feel about your characterization of your relationship and particularly of her part in it? 

I like to think that my poems are written from the center of my stomach, what the Japanese call “Hara”. You could also say: from the gut. You’re absolutely right: “Dear You” is a very intimate portrait. Extreme intimacy. I was afraid of showing it to Mlle. X, the mother of my child. But I also felt it would be wrong to publish it without first letting her read it. So I sent it to her and said, “If you don’t like it, or don’t approve, I’ll just keep it in my desk drawer.” She called me up a few days later and said, “It’s a beautiful book. I’m so sorry, I never realized I caused you so much pain.”

Do you think there are patterns in life and that people succumb to certain ones or that there’s much more of a randomness to the universe? For example, Greg Braden talks about something called Fractal Time and how, like the inside of a nautilus shell or the repeating patterns of a pine cone, life spirals out in ever-widening circles, but the pattern remains the same. Braden posits that there’s a precise mathematical formula to prove his theory and with certain bits of information such as the date of the inciting event, among other things, he can predict when the next event will occur, allowing you to prepare yourself for a disaster or maybe keep it from happening, or conversely, accept a blessing. I’m fascinated by this concept and wonder if you’ve heard of it and what your opinion of it may be. 
 

Greg Braden’s idea is intriguing, but I deal in my texts with emotional time, not mathematical time. My own books, such as the memoir One Time in Paris, or the novel The Electric Affinities, or my prose poem, The Little Book of He and She, draw on such different experiences of life and love that it would be impossible to say they conform to any preset pattern. In your own book, Six Sisters, you write a passage about how nothing happens by chance. I agree, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying that people succumb to certain patterns that keep replicating themselves.

I’m sure your familiar with the work of Joseph Campbell and the power of myth and archetype throughout the ages. You have two stories of lost love, both of which might have shattered you, but you proved resilient. Do you think that we are all living our lives under the umbrella of a few archetypes developed early on in our childhoods, and if so, what archetypes resonate with you? 

Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is one of my favorites, and I strongly believe in his mythological narratives. The archetype that resonates with me is that of the hero, the man who, assuming his own destiny, ventures out on a dangerous quest, meets several obstacles, overcomes them, and is victorious. There are many types of “quests” and the victory is always a spiritual one, symbolic, but it must be fought for and achieved. My books are all about a quest for love, or what happens in the aftermath of a broken love.

What’s your next project? Another hybrid book of memoir/poem or something completely different?

My next book is actually about the moon. It’s called Moon Talk. It will be published by BlazeVOX next month. It’s divided into three parts, a long poem, an essay, and some quotations. It’s a poetic, spiritual, and philosophical journey through all the phases of the lunar cycle. It’s a lyrical riff on the moon as myth and symbol. Joseph Campbell would have liked it.

Sounds wonderful.  So what’s a regular writing day look like for you? Part time? Full time? Some time? Every day or only when the muse strikes?

I’m a nocturnal poet, I need the night to write. A certain solitude is essential. I don’t believe in the Muse. Writing comes from patience and discipline. For me, it’s almost like a Zen meditation. When I’m in it, I’m ready to kill any distraction.

I gather you are not a religious man, yet you write as though there is a real spirit of the divine in your work. Reconcile this for me.

I’m not religious in the sense of going to church or following any established ritual. But I went to a religious school (St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire), and at one time I even converted to Judaism. My forthcoming Moon Talk book is quite mystical. It talks about that “Name who, moving among darkness, sheds light”.

What is your greatest hope for the future of mankind?

If mankind as a whole read more poetry, the world would certainly be a greener, more peaceful place.

I know a few poets who would agree.  Good luck with your next book. I look forward to reading and reviewing it.

p.j.lazos 1.20.16

Read the whole interview here

Read more »

Dear You by Wade Stevenson Reviewed by Green Life Blue Water

 

Writing

41965upxYvL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Dear You

      Dear You, a combination of poetry and memoir, by Wade Stevenson is one of the most exposed, unrelenting, and heart-breaking pieces on longing that I’ve read. Like Flutes and Tomatoes (reviewed below), named one of the best Indie books of 2015 by Kirkus Reviews,  Dear You is a genre Stevenson seems to have created, and if he didn’t create it, he knows his way around the terrain with the temerity of a conqueror. I love the mix of self-reflective recollection and metaphorical lyricism. It rounds out the narrative and answers the nagging questions that straight poetry leaves to the imagination.

The story starts with a breakup (Stevenson’s marriage); a rat (in the apartment of his soon-to-be beloved, Mlle X.); a rescue (by Stevenson of Mlle X. from the rat); a pregnancy (Mlle X.’s by Stevenson); a marriage (being rescued from a rat does not always end in marriage, but in this instance it did); and a birth. In reading the list above you would not guess that the birth would be the most tragic and life altering of the events that transpired, but it was both stunning and life-derailing for the author. Even more uncanny, Stevenson knew at the exact moment he watched his daughter’s head emerging into the world through his wife’s legs that their affair was over.

WHY?

I want to know the splitting event
The decisive moment that drove us apart.

Was it in that white hospital room
When her darling head crowned

Between your bloodied groaning thighs?
Standing proudly at your head, I thought:

You will never see her again in this profoundly
Open way. I had such strong sexual energy

Devoted to an act that is God’s
Cosmic joke, and then you laughed,

Asked why I keep returning to you,
I had only one answer, “It’s instant and love.”

I want to write you a poem
So full of magic and power
That you’ll read it and never leave me.

Stevenson had no empirical evidence to support the conclusion that at the precise moment a new life was beginning a prior life would come to an end, but his inner voice advises him as such, and so, there it is. Life in all it’s conundrums.

Dear You is simply, achingly, this: a story of a man who loses his wife. The loss is not in the classic sense through death or divorce although given how abruptly the relationship failed it may as well have been. A traumatic change of heart? Possibly. A near death experience in childbirth? Perhaps. Too much pressure to return to the conjugal bed? Could be. Or was the fruit of the union — the child — more than enough emotion for the mother to hold. After all, the process and pain of childbirth is tumultuous, scary, and maybe closer to God than any of us will ever get while still walking around in our human suits. Before modern medicine, women regularly died in childbirth. Even with modern medicine, some women experience a postpartum depression so severe that it may take months, even years before they return to their own selves while the helpless father sits attentive, ready to assist, but unable to cross the great divide between those two disparate selves that are now joined in the body of that tiny beautiful little baby. How can a father compete against such helplessness? How can he suppress such unbridled longing? The answer is, he can’t.

Stevenson tries valiantly, and sadly, fails, but he leaves behind a collection of poems depicting the war he wages against his new found isolation, punctuated by one of the most despicable, definitive words to pass between lovers: no. For anyone who’s loved and lost, Dear You is your comrade in arms.

Next up:  an interview with Wade Stevenson.

p.j.lazos 1.17.16

***

51KYD3IDMKL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

Flutes and Tomatoes – A Memoir With Poems

“I became sensitive to every vibration in the air, to every nuance of the changing light. It would be late afternoon. It was then that the snake of emptiness would tighten around my throat. It was hard to breathe. I didn’t know if I could make it to the next day. There was a bottle of red wine on the chair. I grabbed and gulped it and enjoyed the warm swish of the liquid down my throat.” Wade Stevenson, Flutes and Tomatoes, A Memoir With Poems

Flutes and Tomatoes, A Memoir With Poems by Wade Stevenson is not at all what I imagined it would be. Let me start with a confession: poetry confounds me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the cadence, the sentiment, the succinct nature of the writing; it’s just that I don’t always understand it. Without a context, it could be a metaphor for anything which is exactly the commonality of human emotion the poet intentionally taps into, but for a reader like me who wants certainty, assuredness, a good clean ending, the myriad possibilities that poetry presents can be downright frightening. That’s why I love this hybrid memoir/poem combo platter by Wade Stevenson. There was no guessing as to what had happened to make the poet lock himself in a basement studio in Paris with a bunch of tomatoes and a flute because he tells us, straight off, that he’s in mourning, that his lover has quite unexpectedly died, that he’s not coming out of the basement until he discovers the meaning of it all, or alternatively, learns to live with it. Having been apprised of the situation from the offset, I could relax, free to roam the pages of Stevenson’s poems, spending as much or more time on each as I felt necessary to understand because I’d been released from the chore of deciphering the code. I already had the rudimentary understanding; the rest was pure — wait for it — poetry, and it was illuminating and lovely.

I think poets, more than novelists, are the epitome of private people. Full disclosure is near impossible which is why they cloak everything in layers of metaphor. As with all good poetry, Flutes and Tomatoes is no exception. Stevenson keeps the details, crushing as they were, in the safety of his private zone. We have no idea, despite the broad brush of events, as to what actually happened in the atelier in Paris: how the lovers met, whether they were young or old, how long they were together, whether they spoke the same language or were perhaps the same sex, whether the trip to the countryside would have been the first or the last. All we know is that the flute and more than a dozen tomatoes remained, the flute maybe because Stevenson and his lover shared a flat. The tomatoes because, as he discloses, they were gathered/stolen from a farmer’s field on a trip that should have been but was/not.

Judge for yourself what could possibly happen to you that would cause you to spend a day, a week, a month, perhaps an entire summer living a solitary existence, just you and an external object(s) of your choice. How devastating the shock? How debilitating the news? It’s unclear from the text how long Stevenson remained underground. Long enough for the tomatoes to rot, for grief to move in with its own baggage and take up excess floor space in his sparsely furnished apartment, for questions of the existential nature of reality — living as he was, at the time, in Europe, the birthplace of existentialism — to be answered, or go unanswered, for him to turn on a tomato or two, to watch them rot and fester and disintegrate into nothingness, to violently throw one against a wall, to embrace his own darkness and ultimately his own light. It’s not an existence for a cowardly heart, perhaps not even a tomato heart. In the end, only the experience remained, and the words, resonating with an emotion the color of tomato.

Tomato Heart

If you choose not to eat it
A tomato quickly becomes useless
Unless by chance you learned to love it
Knowing buried deep inside
Are seeds of water and sunlight
To you it is transformed, a crimson flower
You watch its pink petals fall
Think of everything that might have been
Desires, sorrows and regrets
How to reconcile the shadow of your soul
With your real self? Tenderly, with blind
Fingers you touch the precious skin
As it swells and dilates
Like some enormous empty heart

p.j.lazos 12.9.15

Read more »
« 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ... »

Extra Pages

Photos on flickr