Reviewed by Ketaki Datta
Kristina Marie Darling
ISBN-13: 978-1609641931, March 2015, Paperback, 54 pages
Failure Lyris is a collection of poems by Kristina Marie Darling, a prolific writer, critic, poet, and academic. Her pen never rests though she is footloose and fancy-free lately, hopping from one residency to the other in Europe as a writer. In Failure Lyrics, she seems to resonate with the words of Browning’s failed lover who sighed to say, “Fail I alone in words and deeds/ Why, all men strive, but who succeeds?” Adamant defiance, compulsive self-acceptance, a foray into the world of failures much as a bastion dreaded by all, loved[!] by few, very few! How can one fall in love with failure? It may irk us to see the successful folks around but can anyone be complacent with failure, let alone come to terms with it considerably? Perhaps, therein lies the secret of Darling’s powerful, highly experimental verses.
The poems in this slim volume are divided into three sections: Failure Lyric, A Garden, and An Archive—sixteen, eight, and seven poems are there under the three sections respectively. The early versions of these poems had been published in Barn Owl Review and Spolia as acknowledged by the poet. The Preface is strikingly cogent to the theme. In broken lines of a not-so-definite pattern, she talks about her failure to “ begin a story”.
The story can’t begin.
An abstraction like
Human happiness or Hamlet’s vengeance.
You can’t fight for the dead, only
No way to begin a story.
the blood rushing,
the Mahler left open.
Even now, you can’t
The message is loud and clear: neither human happiness nor Hamlet’s revenge can be reasoned for. So, why not give up all cogitations and actions and doze off? No story can be begun. She tried her best but failed. Failure is being sung in. Like the ‘Renaissance Man’, the modern man also surrenders himself to a debilitating sense of ‘defeatism’.
The poems in the first section, like ‘Minor Failures’, ‘Boston’[speaking of First Night], ‘Mirror’, Boston[of Second Night], Prayer, Sad Film, Iowa City leave us privy to an endangered relationship about to crumble at any point of time, wafting in the still, sad music of inhuman dealings. The images become symbols, the symbols turn into a poetic construct where ideas, expectations, and ‘failures’ merge pathetically, bursting in their seams. Her plan of journeying to Iowa city form not a broken arc of the whole but a full circle. In ‘Avenue of the Saints,’ the poem preceding her reaching Iowa, her destination, she portrays her failure to convince others,
When I left for Iowa City, no one would come with me. They could imagine the barren corn fields, the crops gone dark from the cold.
Still, I told them about the roses, their petals clinking with frost. The quiet magnificence of a garden before it bursts into bloom.
No, no, they didn’t need to see it for themselves.
In the concluding poem of this section, she reaches Iowa City and keeps “waiting for time to burst into bloom” in a garden “where sleep doesn’t help.”
The next section, the first poem ‘First Failures’ beautifully portrays how unfaithful a partner may be, and how it hurts when he pretends to be faithful. Just as the lady tears open the white envelope he slips under her door, she finds to her utter dismay, “but there’s only winter inside.”
‘Failed Dream’ also adroitly portrays the sadness of new love when she finds that the present is meant not for her but his last wife. All the ribbons curled at her feet. Darling must be thanked for such a wonderful portrayal of betrayal,
You see, when we married, memory fell asleep in the chapel. We left her in the pew, wearing her best dress.
Somehow she never found her way back to our door.
‘Sad Film’ talks of stepping out of the ‘last wife’ and stepping in of the ‘present one’. The cut of the ring, the diamond all are so similar in both the cases, even the last wife seems to be her sister with similar physical attributes,
I could no longer keep my hands from shaking. My husband had long since left, taking those plush hand towels with him.
Oh, but the gardens. All that terrace. All those lilies.
In almost all the poems of this section, Darling faithfully draws a picture of the faithlessness of the consort, the haplessness of the better half being dejected, the surroundings, the ambiance, and Nature as a whole playing ‘objective correlative’ to the scene.
Broken lines of no particular pattern imbued with sadness mark the poems of the last section. The relationship seems to be archived and forgotten, leaving a tear at the corner of her eyes, depicting failure. These are seven ‘Sad Epistles’ as the poet names them. Broken lines stand for a broken relationship. The lines of no-pattern are suggestive of a broken dream. The poet gives failure a face, a shape, and an identity.
The closing lines of Sad Epistle 1 are so appealing:
…in a space so black,
We fall out of ourselves,
Marriage is a blunder, it seems. In the next Epistle, the girl understands that she has traveled only to come to a grinding halt, “ to stop”. Her confusion, even “ in the Spanish City of gold” leaves her blanched in desperation. “Unwitting suicide” she contemplates. In the Vth Sad Epistle, she feels to her utter dismay that “ He is bored. We both are.” Night descends but nothing sprouts into a blossom. She deletes the petrifying memories, torpid associations and finally, she stares
platform. A train
quietly attempting to rise
Failure Lyrics ends with a sigh from the deep bosom, with a contemplation taking birth somewhere in the distal lobe of the cranium, the images and symbols jostling to change places, sometimes identities. Failure Lyrics is a must-read to get a feel of the present times where we all are alone, in pain, all relationships are waiting for sad internment, ‘failure’ is the order of the day. Contemporary and deeply appealing.
About the reviewer: Dr. Ketaki Datta is an Associate Professor of English with Bidhannagar Govt. College, Kolkata. Apart from academic publications, she has two novels, three translated novels, and a book of poems, “Across the Blue Horizon”[ funded by Arts Council, England]to her credit apart from a bunch of short stories: both original and translated. She had been to Lisbon, California and University of Oxford on an invitation to read out her papers, mainly on indigenous and World theatre. She is Regional Editor of The Theatre Times from India, headed by Prof. Magda Romanska, Professor, Emerson College, Boston. She has contributed to Routledge Companion to Dramaturgy, edited by Magda Romanska; Beyond Improbable Lines: The Partition of India (Cambridge Scholar Publishing) by Daniela Rogobete and Elisabetta Marino. Lately, she has co-authored a book of photos and poems titled “ Urban Reflections” with Prof. Wilfried Raussert, Univ. of Bielefeld, Germany. Her book on Oral Stories of Totos is coming out soon from Sahitya Akademi.