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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Review: Hanging the Moon by Jenny Yang Cropp

Hanging the Moon, by Jenny Yang Cropp, Rocksaw Press. Review by Sarah Pape.

In Jenny Yang Cropp's new chapbook, Hanging the Moon, published by RockSaw Press, we begin with a contradiction, a warning, or perhaps just what it's titled, an "Apologia." She writes, "Fall's beauty doesn't' move me [...] too scientific, / not enough wonder." Yet as you travel through the tight-knit collection of narrative poems, you quickly find yourself deep in the language of science-string theory, black holes, matter, measurement of light, stellar remnants. However, this is not a treatise on quantum physics as much as a deep dive into the theories of the surrounding environment transposed with concrete experience. In the poem, "Little Black Holes," Cropp writes, "When my boyfriend asks for the book / I borrowed and lost, I will tell him / subatomic black holes exist, and they take // what they want-memories, dreams [...]" arguing that we must hide what we want to keep safe from the appetite of the universe, always lurking. This movement of explaining circumstance with a hypothesis seems to be a way of understanding what defies the heart - grief, loss, violation.

If the scientific is the skeleton of Hanging the Moon, ritual and personal myth are the flesh. The trauma of the death of a sister become the focus midway through the collection, as in "Food for the Dead" in which the speaker of the poem dreams of her sister's death before being told of it:

One small photo all the papers will print
passes through me. Sister at the end becomes girl behind glass,

distorted, twisting into the familiar and out again,
until I wake up, blood still ringing from the blare of her face.

Cropp then follows with the editorial style prose poem, "Flushing teenager killed in a two-girl knife fight" in which the details of the sister's violent death are imagined, grappling with the unknowable, attempting to conjure a sense of witness.

We are told, "I am the child / who knows, and you are the knowing, why / she runs from light switch to bed but keeps her eyes / open, waits for the wall of dark to dissolve" in her closing poem, "The Visible Spectrum." And as the human eye can only distinguish a portion of the surrounding electromagnetic wavelengths as "light," Jenny Yang Cropp acknowledges that memory is incomplete, "leaking our dim light into pools visible from space" finding the darkness necessary for true illumination. This is an honest and raw collection of poems that create their own science of experience, lyrical and illusory as it tests its own hypothesis.

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