Malik Crumpler’s Amber Hymns is a difficult collection to describe: sprawling through an urban chaos in which music and language combine, it is a bold attempt to codify a human experience where reality and spirituality exist both within and outside the mind. The work flows through many states, with Crumpler informing us that ‘Fire informs the chaos | that will permit | your new form to form’. The self is purged and a renewal is enacted: the motif of the phoenix and the owl – symbolic of resurrection and of death – abound the text.
As a musician foremost, Crumpler fuels his verse with musical strains, although is keen not to differentiate between the media too much:
‘Everything is music,’ he reflects, ‘every medium is a different instrument for the grand song that the collective universal expression uses as a functional device’. This realisation occurred for Crumpler at an early age:
‘I started improvising raps with my brother and cousins when I was around four, and by about six I was writing constantly. I started doing this because it was fun and everyone in my family was obsessed with poetry, Southern ghost stories, and urban folklore.’ There is an element of this improvisation within Crumpler’s writing; sound patterns reverberate through the verse forming and manipulating the language used. In one of the most poignant images in the collection, Crumpler writes: ‘You who write poems on the sky | The wonder why they blow away | You know nothing of the wind’.
Amber Hymns is described in its subtitle as ‘poems, prayers, raps’, and whilst it is clear to see the former and latter of these two elements, it is the religious dynamic that, when put under poetic pressure, seems to yield interesting results. The resistance to any particular religious sect places Crumpler’s work outside orthodoxy and within a state in which spirituality takes over.
‘Everything I write about,’ says Crumpler, ‘concerns the relationship between energies and non-energies. In essence, the only important thing in all I do is the spirit. I am inspired and motivated by the desire to live and write about the specific spiritual reality and non-reality that abounds me’. This is made explicit in his work where we are told how ‘slowly they reveal themselves | gods speaking to artist about | themselves’ and that ‘A God is born | knowing only shapes’.
The birth of a God calls to mind the reversal of Nietzschean metaphor; and yet, it is a constructive rather than destructive vision that Crumpler evokes. A motif that recurs through the collection is that of “dance” and the dichotomy of reason verses nature. In discussing man’s bestial nature Crumpler is contemplative:
‘Any human that believes they are in control of their bestial nature is terrified of their true being; even if they have taken measures to eradicate the beast within, they will become unbalanced and, in so doing, create an entirely new beast. The bestial, which implies the chaotic, is a necessary formative state for all ideas. The dance is the negotiation between space and time, the rhythm and tambre, “what I must do” and “what I am doing”.’
Crumpler’s writing is elusive and abstract, rarely settling on a single idea or image, forcing the reader himself to dance between the poet’s strains of thought. And yet, Crumpler does not believe in generalities:
‘Everything I do artistically is autobiographical. I am from the ancient quilt of artists who deem the arts as something that is for grander ideas and connections than simply human relation. I am not concerned with people relating to me through my work, that it what human interaction is for; arts are a cyclical relationship between the gods and muses and the transitioning of mankind from human to god.’
Amber Hymns has high aims that each reader must judge for themselves; however, it is with candid honesty that the poetry strips away superficiality to proclaim: ‘She is a dancer | only because she dances’.
W. J. Humphries