|A Review ofNew Covenant Bound.
Paperback: UP of Kentucky, 2010.
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Reviewed by Thomas Turner.
The young poet T. Crunk’s latest work is a mixture of poetry and prose that tells the epic story of a family adversely affected by progress and the longing for an agrarian past. The words form a tangle of longing and the haunting of an old way of life that peruses the depths of Kentucky’s soul.
Crunk navigates the rising waters of a Tennessee Valley Authority project that displays scores of families with dam building, all for the sake of “progress.” Juxtaposed in the text are the old ways and new ways of living for a family that has lived the same way since they first touched Kentucky soil, and their inability to sail safely through the waters of progress and change are the focus of Crunk’s keen sense of place and time.
The sense of place is Crunk’s most dramatic arc, as the family must move from their old town to New Covenant. Bound for this new town, the family wrestles with the loss of a farm that served as their whole identity: when you are born and buried in the same place you live and work, place and identity have a way of becoming the same thing. The family’s hard life of farming seems cursed, and their curse doubles as their whole existence will soon be placed under billions of gallons of water:
Our only sin was being born where we were. And not giving up on
a land that often spited us.
Our only sin was not having what they thought was enough. And
being forced to take what they call help. (52)
What the government called help was diversion to an internment camp and not much else. What seemed like an opportunity for a fresh start for hundreds of subsistence farmers in Appalachia soon turned into a cynical view of government, progress and the value of life and land. Some move away to cities. Some commit suicide. Others stick around as close to their homeland as possible, hoping that they can re-create their life, but it is all for naught. The narrative of human flourishing and living on the land has been drowned like their farms, and the light of hope which once carried them through hardship and hunger has faded to the point that darkness can now overcome it.
Crunk’s poetry shapes the ethos of an age that is so different but so very much like our own, when progress is supposed to go about unobstructed and unopposed for the sake of the people, for our own good. But Crunk forces us to reflect on our history of unrelenting progress, that under every reservoir there might well be the hopes and dreams of people cast asunder to on our collective journey toward a “brighter” future.