The poems in The Book of Frank capture moments, and they don’t explain themselves. But, cumulatively, they invoke a sense of what it is like to be almost supernaturally sensitive, empathic, curious, responsive. In short: what it feels like to be a poet, possessed by a muse.
C. A. Conrad introduces this long book of short poems with an epitaph from his grandmother: “well of course they’re staring, we’re very interesting.”
Grandma got it right. Mr. Conrad is very interesting indeed.
The poems are a surrealistic biography of a child named Frank. Who is Frank? It is impossible to say for sure, but one naturally suspects that Frank is an alter ego for the poet. Perhaps, the title is a pun on the idea of a frank book? A book that speaks frankly about what it is like to be a poet.
Yes, I think so.
None of the poems are titled. Many of them are only three or four lines. None are more than perhaps 20 lines, and each line is often only two or three words.
The poems capture moments, and they don’t explain themselves. But, cumulatively, they invoke a sense of what it is like to be almost supernaturally sensitive, empathic, curious, responsive. In short: what it feels like to be a poet, possessed by a muse.
Little Frank is so sensitive he can even identify with a cricket, as demonstrated in this brief but effective concrete poem:
Frank follows the crick
Indeed, this is a child (and a poet) who watches and is worth watching.
Empathy can be dangerous and frightening. In another poem, Frank has the disturbing experience of seeing the world through Mother’s eyes:
while Mother slept
Frank took her eyes
he saw the devil in every room
twirling his asshole
cooking small rodents
masturbating in Father’s E-Z chair
Frank’s mother is an upsetting figure, and Frank experiences her as metaphor:
when Mother first grew
tentacles from her
shoulders Frank found a
path of ink across his
breakfast and went
to school sick
A second series of poems seems to reveal Frank as slightly older, perhaps a teenager.
Notice how, in the following poem, an entire story, a world of thought and emotion is revealed by implication but not explicated. So much said with so little:
in the end
Developing sexual feeling is evoked with surreal images:
to be alone with
her foot while
she hopped in
the kitchen on
In many of the poems, the images are visceral and effecting, even where it is difficult to arrive at a precise meaning.
Here is an absurdist story with a fabulous image:
at the doctor’s request
Frank stopped shaving the chair
in a month it
was the most
And I particularly like this one about his mother’s death (or murder? or his survivor’s guilt? Nothing is obvious in these poems.):
died her red
scrubbing the toilet
beating out the rugs
“I don’t even miss her”
Frank said at
the dinner plate
meat caught in
him in the
in the freezer
her red dress
The image of Mother’s dress continuing her housekeeping chores is both frightening and laugh-out-loud absurd. Clearly, if Frank is hallucinating such a thing, he does miss her – even obsesses over her, which makes his denial touching. But the pathos of the denial is undermined by the surreal moment of Frank talking to a dinner plate.
It is delightful how Mr. Conrad manages to play multiple notes on our emotions. The ambivalence of “they” further delights: is it the police? Is Frank somehow criminal? Is he a suicide? Does mother somehow kill him? It is interesting that he is frozen and “packed neatly”. The final image of the “red dress snapping” is like a whip of punishment or guilt or confusion, and one must be chilled at the spookiness of its flapping with no wind as if inhabited by Mother’s aggressive spirit.
The book offers provocative language and surprising subject matter throughout. The images are surreal, simple, startling and original.
Frankly speaking, Mr. Conrad is a poet worth reading. Highly recomended.