T. Crunk. Biblia Pauperum.
Lexington, KY; Accents Publishing, 2013. 978-1-936628-21-6, Softcover,
6" x 9" $15.00
Crunk is a fabulist, a Minor Prophet from the last pages of the Old
Testament. James Dickey has called him a “true voyant” (a
clairvoyant, a seer). The periods of the King James Bible echo through
his work, and his voice in Biblia
Pauperum is a cross between Tom of Bedlam and John the Revelator. Or
perhaps between the preacher of Ecclesiastes and the mad slave-rebellion
leader Nat Turner.
These poems are best
read aloud. Forget the syllogism of the sonnet, the narrative of blank
verse. Let the lush sound and imagery wash over you.
up the white road
flake of night
Note how the liquid (l, r) and fricative (f, s) semi-vowels balance with
the assonance of the high frontal vowels (a, i) to render this short
passage sensual in the mouth. And then there is the astonished delight
of the image.
Or savor the rotund oratory of this passage:
Great bird of
born of crucible
of the forges of
are strokes of
A biblia pauperum or pauper’s Bible was a Medieval picture book that
functioned as an illustrated concordance of the Old and New Testaments.
The book was arranged as a triptych, with an illustration from
Christ’s life flanked by illustrations of corresponding events from
the lives of the Old Testament prophets. Only brief texts were included.
Such books were not intended for the poor but may have been used for
instruction of the illiterate.
Crunk’s Biblia Pauperum is divided into four sections: “Parables” (from
which the quotes above are taken), “Mysteries,” “A Theater of Fine
Devices,” and “Revelations.” The “Mysteries” section contains,
appropriately, three “Triptychs” or three-poem series: one from
Genesis (the Cain story), one from the crucifixion and resurrection
(called “Pièta”), and one called “Angels.” These are very
strong, dark, and moving poems. “Triptych: Genesis,” for example,
explores the origins of blood lust. It begins with the left panel
“First Night” in which a figure who must be Adam hides in the tall
grass watching “the tree where // those / he names // deer” eat of
fruit he is forbidden to eat, then, under cover of the first-night
darkness, tears an as-yet unnamed creature “open // with his hands”.
The right panel, “A Morning,” shows us Eve, cast out, washing blood
from her son’s garment, and the center panel “Of Blood” seems to
be spoken by Abel
Crunk’s extraordinarily short lines, his use of the two- and
three-word couplet, and the absence of punctuation assure that we
consider every single word. He is beyond laconic and yet in some sense
word drunk. This section ends with a seven-part poem called “Purgatory
(Studies)” that puts us back in the world of the mad seer
the old thief
a blind spider
the mouth of
their stone crock
Three and seven are significant numbers in the Judeo-Christian
tradition, the former being the number of the Trinity and the latter the
number of the Sabbath, when God rested from his week of creation. “A
Theater of Fine Devices” is a series based on the number seven: 14
poems linked like a chain, a word in one poem becoming the subject of
the next. Thus the first poem “Of Salt” contains the phrase “only
whispers / and dust” and the second poem is “Of Dust.”
The section closes with a seven-part poem “Of Hands,” the
last couplet of which refers back to the first poem: “the salt forest
/ of desire.”
Crunk is fond of the multi-part poem; three times he writes a poem of
seven parts, one in each of the first three sections of the book.
Counting the “Triptychs,” there are eight three-part poems.
The final section, “Revelations,” contains a series of seemingly
personal poems. Titles like “Suicide,” Insomnia,”
“Annunciation” warn us that we are not to go gentle out of this
book. Here we find, not a prophet, but a man lamenting his failure to be
a prophet or even a believer:
no burning coal
to my lips
inside a wheel
And from the last poem in the book:
leaving only you
and even you
Thus we go out on an em-dash, indicating a thought incomplete, broken.
These are not all new poems. Parables
and Revelations was published as a Finishing Line Press chapbook in 2005
and A Theater of Fine Devices
by Blue Light Press in 2009. Brought together in this way, however, with
the exquisite poems from the “Mysteries” section, the poems are
given a new texture.
T. Crunk’s world is not easy but it is gripping.
Tony Crunk's first collection of poetry, Living in the Resurrection,
was chosen by James Dickey as the 1994 selection in the Yale Series of
Younger Poets. He has since published a number of children's books, as
well as several additional collections of poetry and short fiction. He
currently lives in Montgomery, Alabama.