Much of contemporary poetry depends on subtleties so shaded and nuances so fine that the poems dwell on the tipping point of irrelevance. The minuet differences between minutia often seem to be their subject—the particular word-choice of small-talk, the specific way a bird shakes itself at the bird bath. While there may be some hidden truth in these tiniest of differences, it’s refreshing to see a writer who works, unabashedly, with the barest of contrasts. Robert Krut’s Theory of the Walking Big Bang is like an inked woodcut pressed into the whitest of paper. Krut deals not in shades and half-tones, but in the stark contrast of all or nothing.
Krut’s poetry gives substance to negative space—the absence that defines the presence. The “Big Bang” of the title implicitly nods to the nothing it rose out of, and Krut’s poems are filled with voids, holes, gaps, and margins. In his poem, “The Relativity Tree,” Krut’s speaker allows himself to see the tree as not a presence in the world but a blank suggestive outline:
The tree is a negative,
frozen nuclear bomb
its bulb an umbrella.
A bomb, an umbrella—the negative space these forms create is like the frame of sky around a tree. Later in the poem, Krut’s speaker thinks “with complete lucidity:/my irises are black holes.” There is a exhilarating potentiality here—black holes have been known to give birth to universes—but there is also a troubling sense of indeterminacy.
This tension between the freedom of unassigned space and its daunting barrenness is staged most directly in “Sky.” Krut’s speaker first explains that we are zooming towards oblivion:
I am here to tell you
there’s a pocket in space,
the abscess of a rotten tooth—
and here's the bad news—
We’re hurtling towards it.
Bleak as this is, the speaker seems invigorated by possibility. The poem closes with the speaker rallying his or her companions with an inexplicable outcome: “when we hit that black hole/let us race through…to the eyes of warm, welcoming selves from another universe.” Krut’s speakers are often charming underdog figures who thrive at the cusp of oblivion because at least there anything might happen. The void is the most level playing field.
In several other poems, Krut leaves the outreaches to muse on (of all things) spiders. But perhaps all this hangs together. Spiders do have a curious dominion over space and thin air—their webs bridge negative and positive space without favoring one or the other. At the end of “The Spider,” a mythic spider peels itself away to reveal a blue planet, perhaps our own.
The fat body, swollen oval sphere, hovers—
In a breadth, its cuticle skin
pulls back to reveal a blue, lit planet—
its legs crumbling like ash.
A world emerges from a spider, but the spider seems spent. Krut’s final success in Theory of the Walking Big Bang might indeed be a subtle one: he is able to both celebrate creation while mourning the loss of possibility that is its inevitable fallout.
--Review by Monica McFawn.