by Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher
BlazeVOX Books (Feb. 14, 2016)
June 24, 2016
Two people talking about the weather has never been so insightful or enlightening. Kristina Marie Darling and John Gallaher’s astounding Ghost / Landscape’s show that talking about the weather doesn’t have to be awkward filler. The book moves like poetry while still functioning as prose, and integrates a narrative, suspense, and an unrequited love story into one wonderful whole.
Leaping around in time, the book is divided into chapters, beginning in the midst of things and ending at the beginning with chapter one. Even more intriguing are the chapters named after an emotion or event. Among these are “The Chapter On Regret,” “The Chapter On Museums,” and “The Chapter On Houseguests.” Surprisingly specific, these chapters name their subjects; call them out even, as it becomes clear that the book is obsessed with the weight of names and titles. The speaker asks, “What is a conversation but an attempt to make sense of objects, to dig them out from beneath their seemingly endless names?” and continues on, “How could you call that darkened room nostalgia, as though naming something isn’t a kind of violence?”
In a blunt tone, the speaker builds the world, word-by-word, bringing it into being. Both by naming objects and then dispelling their title, Ghost / Landscape depicts an image, a setting, a landscape and then destroys it all together, creating something new out of its dust. In this narrative world, shattered glass and phantom music are the background of many scenes, a murder does or doesn’t happen, a ghost can quickly become, or perhaps always was, a birthday cake, and a parking lot is renamed “something springy, because we don’t really like parking lots all that much.”
Darling and Gallaher prove that something can become anything. Words are used as a grounding device in reality and then given a rebirth as something else entirely. The poets’ voices blend together magically, where topics are seamlessly shuffled around mid-phrase and the two voices disappear under one consistent tone. Teaching readers how to read the book, the speaker explains, “I’ve always had a fondness for the absurd. Like playing two radio stations at once.” This duality between themes and authors creates an interesting tension throughout, where every thought, feeling, and chapter feels both supported by its surroundings and disputed by what precedes or follows.
The book functions under a sort of foggy consciousness which is perhaps what allows it to sustain such a hazy state. Uncertain movement between what happened and what never did becomes clear in moments such as “We’ve each killed someone, but it’s been so long ago we no longer remember the details, like what it was over or what we did with the body” and “the mind cannot tell the difference between what we see and what we remember.”
If naming something is indeed a violence, the speaker in Ghost / Landscape avoids this at all costs. Using the weather as a device, the speaker seems to be in conversation with themselves, with the you, or perhaps with us as they discuss the weather, in particular the snow, to describe the surrounding bleakness. The weather then becomes a way to interrupt the speaker from discussing the driving force behind the poems. (Namely, the you who never answers the phone and the murder that is mentioned in passing.) To find solace in this ambiguity, readers are given brilliant moments of lucidity, “Here the telephone wires, too, are haunted. What you didn’t know is that it was me, calling to warn you about the weather.”
In the electric prose poems, the landscape, speaker, and the you both are and aren’t haunted, both are and aren’t ghosts. The body is made to be a landscape, and the landscape in turn becomes visceral and sentient. “Bonjour tristesse, I say to the meadow. But the landscape no longer remembers me.” The repetition of one-liners throughout the work and within one piece, paired with the repetition of chapter titles, especially “Chapter Two,” keeps the poems in communication with one another, creating a forward movement if not a linear one. Repetition also lends to the dreamlike state the book finds itself in. A seemingly endless loop, it becomes impossible to orient oneself within the storyline but also comfortable to travel this way.
The only way to describe the journey is “The entire time you had been expecting something familiar, perhaps a landscape painting, but here, even the flowers have been made strange.” Darling and Gallaher create a synergy that absorbs you into their particular version of reality, one where you won’t mind being swept up in talk of the weather. So that “When you look up from the book, even the walls of (the) room were gone.”