Unraveling Uncertainty:
Jenny Yang Cropp's String Theory | Raylyn Clacher

String Theory by Jenny Yang Cropp
Mongrel Empire Press, 2015 (60 pages)
ISBN: 978-0-9903204-5-6

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,

Cropp probes uncertainty, hinging upon the constant of discovery. Each poem reveals another layer until it feels that the poet is, indeed, unraveling the universe for the reader.

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)
With this image, the reader can feel the speaker's desperation and longing. Cropp masterfully employs image again and again in this collection, linking the inner world of the speaker to the tangible, outer world. When one of the women "brings / her hands forward to cover what she can, / to say there's nothing here for me, / that I should go now, stop looking," the reader can feel the speaker's heartbreak.

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)
The poem is crafted in such a manner that it feels as if the reader is watching the poet assemble and disassemble the scene over and over again, turning it over in her hands, trying to pluck meaning from the discord.

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)
The reader can feel the poet twisting and turning, literally becoming the vibration in between the scenes, attempting to reach out to make sense of it all. The metaphor of black ice and the use of repetition let the reader experience the anguish of addiction, the guilt of missing out, the danger of love and vulnerability. This poem is self-aware in the best way.

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.

Raylyn Clacher is a poet and mother living in Wichita, Kansas. She is the author of All of Her Leaves (dancing girl press, 2015) and the founder and organizer of The Feast, a monthly poetry reading series that aims to encourage local writers by bringing in the best poets that the Midwest has to offer. Her poetry and book reviews have appeared in South Dakota Review, New Orleans Review, bookslut, and burntdistrict among others.

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761