Jenny Yang Cropp's String Theory | Raylyn Clacher
Mongrel Empire Press, 2015 (60 pages)
The question is not how time speeds or slows for each of us,
relative to the rate at which we unravel our hearts.
The question is how we learn to vibrate at so many frequencies.
Jenny Yang Cropp's debut poetry collection, String Theory, astounds with its poems of love, loss, and the search for belonging. The poems unfold and ping off of each other as Cropp explores themes such as how one learns to live between identities and how to make peace with the different versions of oneself. She writes of the struggle of mixed-race identity, both internal and imposed by the outside world. Cropp deftly balances between worlds, making herself, the poet, the ballast between. With an assured voice,
Many of the poems in String Theory explore not only what it means to be of mixed-race, but how that perception is formed. Often, this exploration goes hand in hand with a search for the speaker's mother. One of the most poignant explorations of this is the poem "Hooker Hill." The poem opens: "I go looking for the m attached to other, / missing letter still pressed against my forehead, / like she never said goodbye" (10). This statement captures so much emotion and pinpoints the crux of the matter: the mother is not just the link to the speaker's sense of self, but the touchstone of her Korean ancestry. Much can be said for how Cropp crafts this scene, how she ties these two quests together. She captures the ache of this search, comparing the lost speaker wandering the alleys of Hooker Hill to a child wandering the grocery store:
I go there
to wander its alleys with eyes blearing under neon
and streetlight like a lost child stumbling
through grocery aisles, hungry and hoping
each hem I touch will be the one. (10)
Cropp utilizes this approach with great gift throughout the collection. In the prose poem "Black Ice: Revisions," Cropp uses remarkable physical detail and sentences that weave in and out to enact the convergence of addiction and death. What she's unraveling in this poem is time, the self, and the process of the poem. She writes:
I am watching my grandfather die. I am watching my father who is
watching his father die. I am telling you this as if it were true, but it's
not. If I say it again, then maybe, but more likely this is a poem where I
try to convince myself that I am there. (40)
I am a week before
this, high on a concrete floor, dipping my toes in a pile of ash. Or am I a
week before that, too wasted to come out of the dark? And if I say it
again? I am watching my grandfather die. I am watching my father and
can't help thinking about how he'll die. (40)
Ultimately, String Theory is a sort of love letter to the reader, even, one could argue, to the poet herself. In "For My Mother, After Becoming A Mother," Cropp writes about trying to soothe a young baby: "Whenever he cries like this, I want to cry too, but instead, I pick him up / and pat his back. "It's okay," I say. "You're okay." Over and over until he falls asleep" (58). Throughout this collection, throughout the poet's searching, I hear the poet quietly saying to the reader: "It's okay. You're okay." She says it to the young woman sitting in the Arby's parking lot in "Four and Twenty," to the girl high on the floor in "Black Ice: Revisions," even to the girl wandering through "Hooker Hill." Her quiet, assured pace and her marriage of deep emotion to concrete places and details allow her to challenge perceptions, break them open, and then re-stitch them in a new pattern. She does indeed "unravel her heart" in this collection but in a way that allows the reader to learn to "vibrate at different frequencies," to hold the empty and the full in the same hand, to understand and question at the same time, to open oneself up even when it's hard and the heart resists.