top of page
  • Marguerite Carson

(REVIEW) Virgins, by Jesse Darling

Photo of the pamphlet VIRGINS by Jesse Darling against a white paper bag and white surface with a line of natural light falling across the cover. The cover is light purple with VIRGINS written in dark blue across the centre.

Marguerite Carson falls inside a language that exists beyond the frame, in Jesse Darling’s VIRGINS (Monitor Books, 2021), where ‘church, sex and religion swirl through prisms of the body, exhaustion, and classist capitalist structures’.

It feels only right to start in the middle of this publication, amidst the pages that the staples show through, where the pamphlet falls opens before me. VIRGINS is a beautiful irreverent thing that seems constantly to be pulling its language simultaneously towards tenderness and harshness. In the cold light of day, we wonder whether the two might be more similar than we think.

Rather than embodying this tension front and centre, it's left to play out within the text; this is not a publication of harsh contrasts nor played out in the form of the object itself. The lilac width and open fonts are a tonal introduction to a specific flavour of neutrality.

‘In the middle of this the course of our life, I stopped & everybody got out of their car’

The first line of ‘In Medias Res’ opens with a collectivity that is difficult to put a finger on, there is the notion of us all travelling together in the same boat, but perhaps we actually don’t know each other. Yet, we are all implicated. VIRGINS is not a self-contained work, nor is it introspective. It reaches outward and might not care if we come along , there is no approval required,, there is no fear of speaking here. Instead, here is a reverence and a respect, a solemnity in hungry curiosity, clamoring for our turn.

‘Driven by longing for whatever felt like life, or fire’

The church, sex, and religion swirl through prisms of the body, exhaustion and classist, capitalist structures. Reverent borrowed Christian language tangles with the detritus of consumption and we find they are the same. There is no getting away from god. This ever present overhang of old [british, european ?] culture. Upbringing. References. Like a ghost trapped in a corner

This is a work that is full of ghosts, full of echoes, without being overrun with absence. Time has passed, and this is what’s left.

‘Oh benedictio, What smashed bottle could/carve the wretched rind Of laughing mouth. But oh.’

The language, the language. It reaches back into something beyond the frame. It welds the dirty and the handsome hardcore.

The language calls us back over and over.

I read recently that there is no such thing as structurelessness, there are just unseen structures and seen ones.

The church is a structure, the service, the Eucharist. I came to this publication at a strange time, a time of returns. I returned to my family and my home(s) and part of some of my families’ home is the church and so I returned to a church. I found myself once again in the structure, the language, in my mouth and in my ears. There is a rhythm that varies slightly and a repetition that never changes. The roundness under your tongue, the swell of the voice(s).

All around are icons, but here they morph and change.

‘1 shoe [unheeled], bag of sugar unspoiled, waste merch, no leaves, mercy on the xmas lights, round cupped hole in the body unseen the crucible of language itself’

A roll of honour for the contents of our cupboards the bottom of our bags, the detritus in the gutter. A crucible is a container that substances can be heated in, to high temperatures, melted and mixed, a melting pot. In the 17th century, it took on another meaning, that of severe tests or trials. High temp stuff. The metals in the melting pot undergo severe trials. When I look it's not clear how its origins relate to ‘crucifix’, which appears within the same lump entry along with ‘cruciform’. But it's certainly a word that gets around on church websites.

JD’s evocation of this language, which every poem seems deeply if not directly steeped in, embodies a belief beneath the surface. Maybe a belief that can be addressed from below, or not addressed at all but merely acknowledged. Along with the weight of language, its power, its harm. There is no romanticism or nostalgia wrapped up in these themes, though it can occasionally be found elsewhere. Instead this is a bastardisation, a claiming. The creation of their own liturgy, of belief. There is a heaviness to this ritual, a trickiness that is never shied away from. To perform a eucharist is to reach back into language, into the shadows of the previous structures that stood on this same hallowed ground, reaching back into our origins and wrenching. An irreverent reverence persists, a wound and something more.

When we speak aloud, when we write, we stake a claim to our thinking. Linda Alcoff in her essay ‘The Problem of Speaking for Others’ (1991) writes of the ‘rituals of speaking’ – which acknowledge both the content of text and the position of the speaker, and that of the listener(s), in constructing meaning.

And so the rituals of speaking, enunciating aloud, become responsibility. Of performance, of prayer, of audience and blessing. Speaking becomes care.

‘Very democratic is the failure of the body’

Flailing, through out, the material substances and orifices are ever present but not abject. There is no split. Full of filth, the work swallows me whole and spits me out, leaves no room for edges. It’s as though it’s all foreshadowing, or perhaps foreshortening – no perspective – on my part. Hard and fast and full of adrenaline. No time for breath.


Text: Marguerite Carson

Images: Marguerite Carson

Published: 27/01/2023


bottom of page