The Moon & Other Inventions: Poems After Joseph Cornell is a fully enchanting if somewhat mysterious collection of poems, written entirely as footnotes, by the prolific Kristina Marie Darling. Although the book’s subtitle suggests Cornell as its primary subject matter, these poems are inspired by Cornell’s use of assemblage rather than derived from or driven by it. The poems’ focus on apparatuses and their intricate mechanics (for instance the telescope’s “little gears turning” or “metal scraps and shards of colored glass” on which “a rare variety of cockatiel” feed) are certainly in keeping with the feeling of Cornell’s boxes, as is Darling’s own use of found text. But to say this is a book that requires deep knowledge of or leans heavily upon Cornell’s work would be misleading.
Readers already familiar with Darling’s work will not be surprised to find that The Moon & Other Inventions: Poems After Joseph Cornell is a story told exclusively in footnotes. Darling is a poet interested in “writing poems that allow multiple voices to coexist within the same narrative space,” as she states in a 2012 interview with The American Literary Review. Darling goes on to mention in that interview finding, fittingly, inspiration in both Joshua Clover’s The Totality for Kids and Jenny Boully’s The Body: An Essay:
When I saw prose, footnotes, and other appropriated academic forms, I immediately expected a linear narrative. I was delighted when I found something altogether different – the wonderful associative logic that drives poetry. I became interested in creating these unusual relationships between form and content in my own work… footnotes, glossaries, and appendices invite the audience to take a more active role. I like that readers are surprised when texts make these demands, and ask them to participate in the work of the poet.
In approaching and evaluating Darling’s work, it is imperative to understand that she is a poet in dialogue with other poets’ work—that of contemporary writers like Boully and Clover, and that of older poets, namely HD. Further, Darling is a poet whose work is in dialogue with itself. Darling has published five books between 2010 and 2012, and these books often seem to reference each other, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly.
The Moon & Other Inventions is divided into seven chapters, each with a clear heading to help guide the reader through the fragmented footnotes that follow (respectively, A History of Inventions, Astronomy, Horology, Ornithology, Music, Cartography and The Moon). But even these delineated chapters bleed into each other, working with and against each other to perpetuate this quest for ongoing interconnectedness. Throughout the chapters, reappearance of device and mechanism, of imagery pertaining to the moon and astronomy and mapping, and of words like “sky” and “machine” all serve to reinforce these relations between the presented fragments.
There is a character “she” whom we track through the chapters of The Moon & Other Inventions. It is “she” who is looking through her telescope at the start of the first chapter, when “She placed the apparatus beneath her bedroom window.” It is “she” who in the chapters on Astronomy and Horology “noted deviations in the moon’s trajectory” and “described this device as the height of precision,” and who “during these years…felt as thought she would be faced with a decision.” As we move into the chapter on Ornithology, “she” is opening “the cage when the shades were drawn.” In the chapter on Music, it is “she” who “unfurled the score, a sequence of unfamiliar chords sounded…” And in the final chapter, it is “she” who “alludes to a recurring dream, in which she sees her image reflected in one of the smaller lunar basins.”
Of course these may be (and likely are) many shes rather than one woman. But the repetition of the pronoun offers additional guidance to readers as we move from fragment to fragment and make the necessary jumps from footnote to footnote. “She” offers us a foothold, a tangible link to follow as we move through these enigmatic pieces of information, definition, found text and collected image.
Darling’s poetry is not for readers looking for straightforward narrative. This is poetry for readers who want to be asked to forge their own connections between what is provided and what is not. This is poetry for readers who are open to multiple interpretations and readings. But Darling does not ask that we do all of this work. She is flipping switches, opening doors and building rooms in which her reader can create his or her own plot(s). She is setting scenes and recording facts, providing definitions and even appendixes of actual images, all of which her reader can put to use in moving through her writing. Darling is as inviting as she is cryptic and ultimately, she is offering us the opportunity to do our own imagining alongside her.