Review of Failure Lyric by Kristina Marie Darling
Buffalo: Blazevox Books, 2015. 54 pp. $12, paper.
Failure is a perception that is essentially personal. One person's failure can be another's achievement, and failure implies blame, that there is something or someone faulty that did not result in a desired outcome. Lyric is a word that implies emotionally-charged language. Put the two together, and Failure Lyric is the result, a fractured and blistering portrayal of a broken relationship.
The book tells the non-linear "story" of a failed relationship, one that seems doomed and distant from its inception. The speaker is never at ease, even at the very beginning. In the poem [First Failures], the speaker relates this story:
"When we met, by a silver lake at the end of summer, I knew you were looking over my
shoulder, trying to find the woman who would fall in love with you."
"You waited and waited, but the woman never arrived. I just sat there next to the
refreshments, my best dress already out of fashion."
All the poem titles in the book are bracketed, which fittingly mimics the presentation of the speaker as an observer in this narrative, an afterthought to the siginificant other more than a presence. The book opens with an erasure called [Preface], which starts with the line "The story can't begin," telling the reader from the start that this story will not unravel in a way that we expect.
As the reader progresses through the text, repeated images are woven from one poem to the next, much the way a composer uses an ostinato, or persistent motif in the same voice, to resonate in different ways and anchor the reader in the depths of the speaker's confusion. Shattered glass. Dead birds. Ice. Wings and feathers. Tiny boxes. A mouth frozen shut. Each image serves to increase the tension and the isolation of the speaker, to fracture the experience as if watching a movie through a kaleidoscope—the speaker as broken, grounded, cold, frozen in place, longing for flight, but silenced and helpless to stop the journey. Even several poem titles repeat, returning the reader to the same place yet disorienting us with different language. In the first of three poems entitled [Boston], we can see the impact of several of these images:
"Beneath the window, a dead bird covered in snow. You said you had been waiting in the
hotel lobby, with your red silk tie, those drinks in tiny cups. At my feet, shattered glass.
The finch's broken neck. I just sat there, counting the dirty feathers, its cracked bones. The dead bird said nothing.
Still, I couldn't stop looking. Even in the dark, it felt like staring into a mirror."
There is no relief from the spiral of images that spins toward destruction. Even the use of religious language in several titles hints at something other-worldly, not readily explained by logic. The speaker cannot stop what is happening, and the reader cannot help but be drawn into this strange world—three different nightmare wedding scenarios, a honeymoon where the speaker is ignored in favor of the partner's only joy (a cell phone message), and a neighborhood where the speaker's sadness changes even the physical arrangement of space. The book finishes with a section of erasures called [Archive] which contains a series of numbered poems called [Sad Epistles]. In [Sad Epistles V], we are told:
"He is bored. We both are.
see something being shattered."
Darling's work often pushes the envelope of traditional form, but here the sparse prose and bookend erasures are not necessarily non-traditional in form, but disarming in their portrayal of the surreal quality of something that cannot be stopped.
You can purchase Failure Lyric here.
Donna Vorreyer is the author of A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013) as well as six chapbooks, most recently Encantado, a collaboration with artist Matt Kish from Red Bird Chapbooks. She spends her days teaching middle school, trying to convince teenagers that words matter. She is a poetry editor for Extract(s), and her second collection is forthcoming from Sundress Publications in 2016.