EXCESS AND ASCESIS: TWO FEMINIST VISIONARY POETS
VOW, BY KRISTINA MARIE DARLING
THE BLUE RENTAL, BY BARBARA MOR
–“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
Timothy 11 -12, The Bible, King James Version
–“Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque revenit.”
(“You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, she will nevertheless come back”)”
-Horace (65-8 BC), Epistles I.X.24
Kristina Marie Darling created a domestic drama that unfolds in white space, an emptiness surrounded by a commentary in the footnotes. It is a text without text, a Beckett-ian “texts for nothing” literalized. Barbara Mor created a panorama, a historico-politico-paleontological rant against collective and individual injustices. It is written with chthonic excess, with Whitman-esque long poetic lines set amidst the painted landscapes of the American Southwest. Both Mor and Darling represent visionary feminist poetics; one spare and skeletal; the other a surrealist logorrhea.
Vow is about a marriage. Rendered in short lines and esoteric marginalia, the bride faces the slow reduction and negation of her identity. Unlike Mor’s work, The Blue Rental, Kristina Marie Darling’s work isn’t a frontal assault on violent male idiocy and its institutional tentacles (the state, the military, the corporation, etc.). Darling works through small meditations on relics and debris. At the bottom of the page she writes,
“Our house burns with light. He is a shattered window overlooking a desert. I am smoldering in a field of dead poppies.”
The images are distinct but unrelated, images of light and “a shattered window” (fragmentation), followed by an image of fire and desensitization (“dead poppies” – even the poppies, the flower that yields opium and heroin, body-deadening intoxicants, are dead).
Another recurring image is a “scorched altar.” Reading through the book, one has to piece together the narrative from the fragments and clues. Could arson be a cause? Who set it? Is the fire a cleansing act like a forest fire? Or was it set alight to cover-up criminal activities? The white space creates narrative silence. It refuses self-incrimination, but also self-expression. In The Blue Rental, Mor reduces the entire patriarchal enterprise of marriage and reproduction to a dismissive biological assessment:
Sin at the Origin of Earthly Life my desire that
shapes Evolution becomes His Curse,& when did
they respect sex breeding females like cattle who
thinks his little 20 second squirt of sperm gives him
the right to own Humanity
Mor catalogs crimes against women with brutal and explicit descriptions. The repetition of rape and murder made commonplace. In her poem Hypatia, she traces this back to the atrocities committed by Saint Cyril and his Parabolans, hired thugs reminiscent of Saudi Arabia’s black-clad enforcers of religious morality.
Luckily The Blue Rental isn’t all horror and solemn rage. Tiny flashes of humor leaven the otherwise dour proceedings. In one poem she traces the history of a mining town in the Southwest. The denizens desperately cling to a vision of middle-class propriety while a deep pit spews out various and sundry minerals, machines, and liquids. While Mor’s intent is to give a David Lynch-ian nightmare patina to ecocidal damage, the poem reads like an episode of the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale (itself owing much to David Lynch, H.P. Lovecraft, and Area 51). If Thomas Pynchon has taught us anything, it’s that paranoia can be funny. In another poem, three Mesoamerican goddesses end up working at Wal-Mart. The unintentional humor make them no less profound or beautiful as poetic works.
“Once the bride enters, there’s no way out.” (Vow, “Appendix C: Misc. Fragments”). Where Darling offers the reader bon mots and koans, verbal fragments suspended on the page surrounded by white space, Mor buries the reader in an avalanche of text, a chthonic mudslide of information, images, history, politics, broken bodies, and crime. She gives us the American Southwest that negates the dominant patriarchal mythos of John Wayne, John Ford, and Western tropes. This is the Southwest as overbearing capitalist force, seen by the female workers in the maquiladoras, the unending litany of murder victims that Roberto Bolaño writes about in 2666 (The Part about the Crimes). Mor folds these crimes into a larger history of violence, rewinding the clock beyond the Conquistadors to the Hobbesian all-against-all of dinosaurs and trilobites. While violence and consumption is an eternal verity, it is something all organisms do all the time, we humans have, in our short-sided attempt to rectify the ecocidal rape of the planet, erected artificial ideologies like vegetarianism and veganism. While these puritanical dietary regimes offer the individual some modicum of moral superiority, it was John Maynard Keynes who said, “In the long run, we are all dead.” The sad truth is that veganism is nothing but a prop to hold up one’s self worth. And vegans being offended by the term “meatspace” comes across like an act of heroic self-delusion, akin to Christian Identity adherents who deny the Jewishness of Jeshua bin Miriam.
“I dream another me exists in the burning house, reading aloud from what I have written. Broken glass. A sad film. The awkward silence.” (from Vow)
When they brought the horses i knew them a crack in the
universe a fissure in mind look up the Milky Way divides the
sky into 2 hemispheres a brain 100,000,000,000 stars in
this brain a mythos in the sky with a brain as mirrors slow
transit of codes in the particulars of their eyes they will say
they are not entertained by such discourse a memory where
they do not live or think they live but the horse burst from rock
crevice in a sidewalk all from Time returned little eohippus
dawn horse Dawn of mammals 53 million years Eocene in the
West as their hands on cave walls opened mineral flesh and
it was there(30,000bce Aurignacian)evolutions later and
all the beasts emergent from a stony hole or cavernous mind
dark and shining like night (from The Blue Rental)
Vow and The Blue Rental both act as visionary texts, railing against the nothingness that surrounds us and will eventually consume us. Darling’s fragmentary meditation on marriage and domesticity literalizes St. Paul’s palaver for women to be silent and obedient. Like a complementary text, Mor elucidates what St. Paul’s injunction has wrought upon women, civilization, and the planet. Women treated like property or livestock or simply violated by men acting like predatory beasts. Civilization turned into a free market capitalist frenzy to consume more and more, but with a belligerent ignorance at what constant growth and increased consumption mean in terms of limited resources and environmental damage. And crunchy granola hippies chastising us to be simplistic and go off the grid (usually with unintentionally ironic Facebook updates) equally ignorant that a Noble Savage co-existing happily with Nature is just another myth White Patriarchy has erected. While it may seem futile, at least Mor has the cojones to explicitly inventory the wrongs done by man against man, woman, and planet. But it would be equally ignorant to chide Mor for not giving us solutions to the problems she points out. The Blue Rental is a visionary collection of poetry, not a policy white paper. Vow is visionary in its compactness and fragmentary distillation of marriage and domesticity, not an amicus brief on behalf of marriage equality.
These visionary poets need to be read, since their poetry needs to be experienced. Both illustrate how words on a page can be a transformative experience.