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Women and Ghosts is reviewed in HERMENEUTIC CHAOS JOURNAL!!

Kristina Marie Darling’s new collection, Women and Ghosts, is billed as a book of essays; however, the book is an ambitious hybrid of lyric essay, literary criticism, poetry, and playwriting. Women and Ghosts is a stunning and spare account of the female characters in various Shakespearean plays partially written from the perspectives of the characters themselves—Ophelia, Cleopatra, Desdemona, and others. The other voices that make up the book include a critic, a playwright, actors, and a female speaker who seems to take on the persona of the contemporary poet herself. This contemporary speaker recounts a relationship where a man dominates her, and this story is multiplied back across all of Shakespeare’s female characters, which were of course in similar situations themselves. In other words—the chorus of female voices silencing, shouting, and stuffing this famous man’s words is impressive.

The book physically appears to be ghosted—most of the text is printed in a light grayscale that may be difficult for some to read. A few, fragile words rise to the surface of the page. Some phrases are crossed out, especially in the opening section, “Daylight Has Already Come” and the two later sections, “Essays on Production” and “Essays on Props.” Darling also keeps her favorite props close here in Women and Ghosts. Fans of her work from books like X Marks the Dress and Fortress will recognize the “good” silver, flowers, fine china, and lush John Singer Sargent-like fabrics, particularly described in women’s dresses, that dot this landscape.

Darling’s work owes a great deal to Jen Bervin's trailblazing book, Nets, a collection of erasure poems using the source text of Shakespeare’s sonnets, but Darling extends outward from this. Women and Ghosts shows us an author whose critical and creative sides meet at a rocky confluence. Aside from the critical sections, the book reads as part narrative and part performance. The duality exists most obviously in the “Women and Ghosts” section where Shakespearean scenes are summarized briefly and below, a different story is told in the footnotes. For example, the summary of Othello’s final scene simply reads, “Othello ends when Desdemona is smothered and left for dead.” However, in the footnote, the speaker wonders, “If I can act like a girl who just fell in love. Maybe then I will be able to speak” (29). This quote could be looked at as a summary of the summary. It’s conceivable that Desdemona would have this thought as her husband smothered her. It seems more likely, however, that the poet/speaker is channeling Desdemona in her own contemporary life.





 
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Women and Ghosts is reviewed by Lisa M. Cole

 

Kristina Marie Darling's s Women and Ghosts

The essential question in Kristina Marie Darling’s hybrid text Women and Ghosts is posed early on: “If a man turns his head in such a way, who or what is shattered?” As the book’s speaker addresses this quandary, we witness a subtle subversion of the patriarchy, and an upheaval of the male-dominated literary canon. I see the push and pull of a woman who “drowns under the weight of her own dress,” her femininity; her very existence. At the same time, she is reaching towards autonomy; an identity completely separate from the men who stifle her. The men portrayed here are violent and manipulative. The offer no trace of love. She is mired in a rape culture; she is being pitted against a society which does not value the female voice. She asks, “Why is there so much language, so many words I didn’t want.” She doubts the efficiency of language, but barrels ahead; embraces bravery, and speaks out regardless.  

She participates in a conversation spanning centuries with both real and imaginary women: the women reading this text, and the women in Shakespeare’s plays: Ophelia, Juliet etc. Especially pleasing for me is the fact that previous exposure to these texts enhances my experience, but the book is so delicately rendered as to be accessible to even those who have not read the plays.  
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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.

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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.

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Women and Ghosts by Kristina Marie Darling is reviewed in Cider Press

 

WOMEN AND GHOSTS 
BY KRISTINA MARIE DARLING 

by Donna Vorreyer

Women and Ghosts by Kristina Marie Darling  (2015, BlazeVOX) $16 paper ISBN: 978-1609642198
Women and Ghosts
by Kristina Marie Darling
(2015, BlazeVOX)
$16 paper
ISBN: 978-1609642198
In her latest collection of hybrid fiction/poetry/essays, Women and Ghosts, Kristina Maria Darling braids stories of Shakespeare’s women with that of a female speaker who also feels “disappeared” by an unnamed man. Using greyscale, strike-through and bold text to create these “ghost” stories serves to underscore the silenced voices of these women, the extent to which they are defined only by the men around them. In this way, the title is not about women and ghosts as two separate entities, but about those two entities being one and the same.

In erasures of the female lines of Shakespearean women (numbered “Essays on Failures”), Darling is quick to hone in on the subservience of the language, choosing to highlight/use the phrase “my lord” in almost every erasure, thirteen times alone in the piece created from the lines of Ophelia. And it is Ophelia who, time and time again, in different parts of the text, reminds us that she has been “led and misled” by her love, a refrain that the narrator sings as well. In the opening section, “Daylight Has Already Come,” after speaking of Ophelia, the narrator asks, “But what does it mean to give one’s consent? We are led and misled by those we love, an expectant white backdrop shuddering in the distance.” In “Essays on Production,” a series of grayscale, strike-through prose sections, the narrator, working as playwright, reimagines each of Shakespeare’s women, Ophelia’s new soliloquy telling the audience that “to mislead is an act of violence, a theft, an assault on reason and the mind.”

When the narrator speaks in footnotes in the section “Women and Ghosts,” the language emphasizes the presumed authority of the male voice and a lack of female power. Phrases such as he says/he tells me/ he talks/he tries to convince/he calls/he writes dominate these small sections, starting with “He tells me that my mind is broken. Maybe I was born that way. When I was born, he says, the gunshots misfired.” Later the narrator wonders, “When did language grow hostile towards me. When did memory become that empty room, that dark cabinet.” The last section, an exploration of the meaning of the word landscape, both in the narrator’s relationship and in Shakespeare’s time, points out the time-honored tradition of using landscape as metaphor for women’s bodies, but also for a character’s internal mental state, violence, and free will – all four are issues threaded throughout the book, and they come together at the end in an almost detached and scholarly way, a striking effect.

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