H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
W O M E N A N D G H O S T S B Y K R I S T I N A M A R I E D A R L I N G
Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a full-length collection of poetry from Sundress Publications (2015). She is also the author of four chapbooks of poetry and lyric essays, including Sight Lines (Speaking of Marvels Press, 2016), Heart Radicals (ELJ Publications, 2016), A Detail in the Landscape (Eating Dog Press, 2014), and The Canopy (MWC Press, 2012). Sandra’s poetry appears widely in Subtropics, Ecotone, Green Mountains Review, Word Riot, Blackbird, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. Her essays can be found at The Rumpus, Words Without Borders, Mid-American Review, Whiskey Island, and other venues. She is a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at Aurora University outside of her hometown of Chicago.
R E V I E W B Y S A N D R A M A R C H E T T I
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.
The voice of the speaker, the critic, and playwright also seem, perhaps curiously, female. They are speaking about work that is Shakespearean or at least Shakespeare-esque, but these women are not Shakespeare. In this way, Darling’s work supports the theory that Shakespeare was more of a figurehead than the author of the plays we attribute to him. Darling is also a startling example of a stylized female “auteur,” a curator of sorts who has made the plays indelibly her own, mostly by stripping away the men. This volume may be so spare because the roles for women in Shakespeare’s plays are often spare, yet striking, just like Darling’s voice(s).
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I remember writing a paper as an undergraduate that argued the thesis that women in Shakespearean drama, particularly Ophelia, were more beautiful and desirable to men dead than alive. Darling’s volume pursues this thesis as well, and so much more. Just listen to the speaker’s comment after reading Hamlet—“I’m drowning under the weight of my own dress. The closer I come to the bottom of the lake, the more it looks like a torn up piece of sky” (61).
Women and Ghosts
by Kristina Marie Darling
BlazeVOX Books, 2015
$16, paperback, ISBN: 978-1609642198
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