The Sealey Challenge: Crown Noble

Bianca Phipps' CROWN NOBLE, pink with an arching red tree with red fruit and green leaves set against red soil, against a backdrop of trees and sky and flowers.
Crown Noble

I wanted to pull every line from Bianca Phipps’s Crown Noble, as a pull quote. I cried at almost every poem. I saw myself reflected; I saw so many of my students.

Crown Noble is, in some ways, as dark as The Twenty-Ninth Year, which I read yesterday, but Phipps’s poetry is achingly tender, hope seeping through like sun through storm clouds, a metaphor Phipps herself uses, more than once: in “White River Writes Home” she writes: “Forgiveness is not a relentless feast. It is a slow / turn toward the light.” In her final poem, “Nina Redux,” she turns again to the image of light as she turns toward herself: “and I am the view through the window: in motion, untouchable, / drenched in the sun.”

The title pulls from one of the poems in the collection—”My Father’s Eulogy: The Early Drafts,” in which Phipps writes that “his name was crown noble / his name was my name”—but it can itself be seen as a metaphor, the visible family and the root, a theme which runs throughout Crown Noble, with its intense focus upon family ties and the impossible, terrible, beautiful power of love. Phipps explores the difficulties and the anguish of family ties and familial love with a gentle hand, allocating respect and honor to even the most painful stories she tells—and, always, telling them with love.

Crown Noble is a tragedy and a walk into the light of hope twined with love, that forgiveness of which Phipps writes in “White River Writes Home.” It is an unflinching look at an ugly, tangled past, a carrying of grief and anger and sorrow, but also, as Phipps moves away from the character she’s created in Nina, who opens and closes Crown Noble, a return to and celebration of self. Nina might be imagined perfection (or something close), but Phipps is “the view through the window: in motion, untouchable, / drenched in the sun.”

Phipps writes of sorrow, of grief, of anger: of the pain of might-have-beens and could-have-beens and even should-have-beens. And, even in the face of anguish, she writes with grace and tenderness, breaking your heart with her poems only to smooth away the rough edges with the overflow of her love in the text.