Crown Of Thorns by Bethany W. Pope is published under the Oneiros Books imprint. This is not an easy book to read. Ultimately it is a tale of triumph against war, where war is child sexual abuse, rejection, and alienation. Throughout Crown Of Thorns there is a sense of profound hope and strong unshakeable faith.
Bethany Pope uses an imagery and symbolism in Crown of Thorns that is bloody, battered, estranged, and sometimes terrifying. Corridors, umbilici, and torn flesh form the vast part of the imagery, with water and earth less spoken but always present. Crown Of Thorns is a testament of survival and endurance sited in a complex construction that requires some explanation.
Divisions in Crown Of Thorns
There are four major divisions in Crown Of Thorns, Crown of Thorns, House Of Masks, Rabbit Trap, and Bloodlines: An Emperor’s Crown. Within each division are series of poems excavating both familial and personal history. The series are broken into sonnet groups, some of which are acrostic.
The opening section of the book eponymously titled Crown Of Thorns comprises two separate threads (or cords) Joy and John. The section is 15 sonnets long, alternating between two groups of seven sonnets under each heading that become entwined in Sonnet #15. Crown Of Thorns forms the foundation of the book proper. The major themes of survival and abuse are herein introduced.
The themes of this opening section of the book are taken up throughout the other previously named divisions, House of Masks, Rabbit Trap and Bloodlines. Pope maintains a careful balance in the foundational and introductory parts of her book. She explores and ultimately accepts the damage of war on the body, and its survival in the final part of the book Bloodlines: An Emperor’s Crown.
Pope has intricately embroidered her major themes throughout the fabric of the book. She will pick up and repeat phrases in different sonnets, most especially in Bloodlines: An Emperor’s Crown, which is more assured and deftly handled than the earlier sections. Bloodlines is cumulative, thus the most difficult set of themes to render poetically.
The achievement of this book is for the writer, who has honed her craft to attain her mature poetic voice. This, she achieves through her use of structure, structural underpinning in the form of acrostic sonnets, and a developed use of symbolism that interweaves its way through each titled or numbered section. The use of the symbolism of the umbilicus, the corridor, the tunnel, the eye , and water is very evident in the final section of the book through Crown 2: The Ancestors, Crown 3: Alchemy, and Blood Jewels. These named sections form the final part of the book, titled Bloodlines, An Emperor’s Crown.
Symbols In Crown of Thorns
Crown Of Thorns is set out as a Bildungsroman, or more properly a pilgrimage. The book is confessional, as it is a testament of victory over war. War is the torn body and soul of the victim of child abuse, war in the experience of neglect and poverty. The deepest victory is in Pope’s admittance to herself that the battle is never entirely won. It begins anew each day with the ‘Dream that bursts when eyelids open.’
Some of Pope’s material is traumatic to read and to think about. Her most intense victory therefore is in how she has achieved compression of her traumatic themes through her use of poetic form, and in how she has explored and set out those themes through sure use of symbol.
Soil, earth, water and the dark blood of birthing mingle their acids into an existence that is always questing for right and truth. The umbilicus, that dark binding cord of ancestry binds the victims of family through change of place and of time,
‘The corridors run, binding us together
out of glistening blue and red wires.’
Crown 3: Alchemy (Bloodlines)
Bloodlines makes liberal use of the acrostic form spelling out a history, which I read as an SOS. Bethany is born, only purity is my tough refusal to, sell my poor soul, and so on. It is a morse-code of distress hammered into sonnets of sure structure and strong voice. I found myself trying to avoid the acrostics as much as possible to get to the meat of the work, although the acrostic sonnets form the tough outer skin of the poetry- the rind.
Growing flesh around the darkened hole death springs from,
the bark hardens around the hollow in the bole,
the secret place you love for no known reason.
Dressed in a chiton, playing the role of nymphic
servant to unseen Pan, you slide into the loamy darkness,
your wood-rot scented hide. Adolescent haunches
squat in soft soil. You have a shepherd’s pie you bought
with two week’s allowance. Treated bamboo and garish
dyed bands, producing a sound your mind makes melodious.
The tree speaks with the borrowed breath of a wounded girl.
Saturday is for hiding, drawing strength from the earth.
Sundays still belong to grampy, his evil, elderly
entitlement; right of patriarchy to penetrate
beyond the heart of innocence, which grows no armor-bark.
by Bethany W Pope