Julie Chevalier, Darger: his girls (Puncher & Wattmann 2012)
Darger is a fascinating man. He has a Wikipedia page. There’s a movie. John Ashbery wrote a long poem inspired by his work. Very briefly, he was a reclusive eccentric who lived in poverty and imagined a vast epic in which little girls take on armies and interplanetary beings. Shortly before his death his landlord discovered the bulky volumes of handwritten manuscript, along with the copious illustrations, and recognised a work of weird genius.
This book is an impassioned introduction to his story, or rather Julie Chevalier’s poetic record of her encounter with him. A six page introduction tells Darger’s story, defends him against hypotheses that he was a potential or actual child murderer, and argues that it’s incorrect to think of him as an Outsider Artist. The introduction is exactly the kind of courtesy I often yearn for in poetry books – but paradoxically the prosaic information was so interesting that I sometimes had trouble telling what the poetry was doing beyond reiterating it. Paradoxically again, the single poem that I found most satisfying is ‘an unusual child’, a prose poem made up entirely of phrases taken from Darger’s writing. It’s full of cliché, but generates an enormous emotional, quasi-erotic force:
she seemed for a moment to remind him of his own guardian angel in disguise _ she was smiling up again into his face _ hardened with the desperate struggle he was just then having with himself __ you resemble a guardian angel to me _ when I should be grown _ a man should protect a child _ how come you protect me _ the truth surging over him like the waves of a stormy sea _ breaking down the breakwater upon which he was seeking refuge _ a force mightier than his own will _ a voice in his soul crying out the truth _ that above all else he wanted to reach out his arms to the glorious creature
and so on.