The Body is a Little Gilded Cage by Kristina Marie Darling

Gold Wake Press, 2012
Kristina Marie Darling’s poetry collection The Body is a Little Gilded Cage often reads like a hybrid creation. Throughout the various prose poems, fragments, and neatly crafted “Notes” and “Appendices” which make poetry of annotations and dictionary-style definitions that dot the collection, Darling’s collection sounds as if it is written both from the perspective of a contemporary author looking back to the fin de siecle, as well as by a resident of the period mourning the tangible (and intangible) ecstasies and losses of a shimmering present. 

The Body is a Little Gilded Cage is, at its most pressing, a meditation on the sights and sounds of what was truly the gilded era at turn of the twentieth century. The collection begins with a somewhat shapeless narrative that moves from a drive around the city in “City Walk” to a fashionable party in “Soiree.” Darling’s prose poems craft an atmosphere practically perspiring with the smells of cigarettes and perfume and the sounds of phonograph records scratching out dance hall numbers in the background. Though the first few poems in the collection feel a bit disconnected, the prose poem works because it allows a repetition of imagery that adds to the overall meditative tone of the collection. Darling revisits images of “smoldering” cigarettes, things locked with a “silver key” and nights under “cold moons.” As the poems revisit familiar images, often with familiar titles (as is the case in “City Walk I,” “II” and “III”) one senses the images are metonymic representations of moments past and repeated through walks along the river and fancy dress parties. 

The collection meditates on a sense of reverence mingled with unease, as though the beauty of the era is contingent on its fragility. The collection takes a turn toward the documentary in the section labeled “Appendix A: Notes and Misc.” in which one finds “Notes to a History of Bird Keeping” and “Footnotes to a History of the Corsage.” Herein the poems are labeled as a series of numbers and bullet points, documenting poetic descriptions of objects and emotions as varied as the phonograph, bird keeping and psychoanalysis. 

Some of these formal experiments are more effective than others; though one admires Darling’s attempt at finding poetry in the definition of the word “Luminous,” the execution is less than revelatory. Though using definitions as a poetic device is quite innovative, the intent is a bit too canny and their meaning is somewhat muddled by the collection’s otherwise heavy imagism. The last poems in the collection, in a section titled “Appendix C: Posthumous Fragments,” also feel a bit more disconnected than the rest. Mostly a compilation of correspondences, the posthumous fragments are deeply imagistic and are no longer than a few lines each:

     your letter arrives

              a chorus rising

     as the city darkens

Such fragments are relatively free-floating and, though often quite beautiful, feel less like they’re part of a larger collection and more images from a dreamscape. The effect is tantalizing, and the fragments are in many ways indicative of the collection itself. The Body is a Little Gilded Cage does not so much progress as meditate and circle around images whose only central coherence is the time and place in which the moment unfolds. Darling’s collection is an often beautiful series of moments and images remembered and forgotten in a quest for meaning to uncover the sounds, images and affect that bring life to a moment and an age.
MICHAEL RAVENSCROFT is the Associate Poetry Editor for The Adirondack Review. He lives in Washington, DC.