Kristina Marie Darling. Scrambler Books, $12 paperback (87p) ISBN: 978-0-578-12349-3
Once upon a time, separate from the agrarian economy of the countryside and the mercantile economy of the towns, an entrenched and precarious feudal power, perched atop a high rock in Limousin, employed a small number of young women as handmaids and a small number of young men as clerks. With their queen’s amused endorsement, a kind of glamor sprang up from the amusements of this tiny semi-leisured subclass. Naturally, these young people were interested in the arts and each other. Also naturally, since marriage was deferred or impossible, they considered love a condition altogether separate and distinct from the solemn business arrangements of matrimony, and they considered it something different from sex, too. They read Ovid and the Song of Songs. A vernacular literature of their own existed all around them and they knew it well. They had access to local music, and to modal traditions that reached them from the Levant by way of Venice, and they heard polyphonic compositions in church. Young poets took note of this little hothouse of culture and transformed the ethos of its circle of lovers into a poetics. The literary construct of fin’ amor was above all a game whose rules comprised the terms of a contract that offered entrée into the shadow aristocracy who knew how to behave in a new generation – one with the tiniest hint of what we now recognize as class mobility and gender equality. An open secret, these “rules” of love were never really codified, and they form the subtext for the situations laid out in the poems. The speaker of the Occitan poems is a lover, male or female, who, according to his or her predicament, tells how he or she understands Fine Love, and explains how it is with him or her. The poetry was only one part of an entertainment, played out for a happy few to enjoy for an evening while cooped up in a castle, and it developed its own conventions. In general the troubadour corpusdevalues carnality and makes virtues of lack, absence, the ethereal, and the disembodied. Through Petrarch by way of Dante, Northern Europe caught on, and the rest is history. Devotion to courtliness in the love game is a matter of temperament, and Kristina Marie Darling’s Compendium + Correspondence offers a presentation of the amorous as if the pith of love inhered not in the story of its existence but in an aura that encircled its effects, its blandishments, and its debris.