NOTES ON: C A CONRAD “THE BOOK OF FRANK”

This is a copy of something I wrote in 2011, that should probably be lost to the mists of time. And yet, here I am publishing it again. Take with youthful salt.

Poetry has to grab me these days. I have to instantly interested, a turn of phrase is all that’s needed to draw me in, but once done I can settle with it. I need a hook is all I’m saying.

The Book of Frank’s particular hook was the inclusion of the line:

“Where’s my son’s CUNT?!”

On the first page. Thus hooked I purchased and ploughed on.

A camp tales of abuse, debasement, metamorphosis, fear, sex and psychosis these short sharp poems wander jumps from theme to theme like the poem itself is on a pivot — each side showing you a new facet with its fully developed rollercoaster of nastiness, the degradation of the human soul and the like.

This culmination of 16 years of work (we only read the wheat of course) is actually a display of the roughness of life.

Like all work produced over a number of years — and maybe all long poetry in fact — the author only offers up little slices of the whole at a time. Each poem is a solid representation of the moment but as the moment and the persons are so varied and changing, those around Frank anyway, there is a lot to take in. Only after being given each sordid polaroid we’re able to build our whole Frank-flick-book. Importantly each snap catches change in action — the animation actually only offers us the dimension of time.

“He read the metamorphosis, just for kicks” We’re told. This joke (the sneering quality of the line) makes light the Kafkaesque nature of metamorphosing characters — a fundamental support to the whole collection. We come to expect a kind of “knowing” change quite early on. Frank’s mother grows tentacles as he realises how involved in his life she is. Frank grows crows for hands. In the beginning Frank seems to be at the mercy of these changes, yet, slowly, he begins to take a grip of the rudder and enjoy the changes.

Frank searches for a metamorphosed version of his sexual-abusive father in the shape of a transsexual — Frank kneeling for a kind of knowing abuse. He takes this and, eventually passes it on.

And this might be at the centre of it. Frank is in control in many ways — he absorbs all the horrendous parts of the world around him and owns them completely. Frank seems to be the victim for much of the extended poem, yet he manages to become part of the oppressive chaos around him.

To say this is about the degradation of the human soul is, in reality, a little much. Frank is dammed from birth to be mis-labelled, over-labelled, abuse. As much as we like to pretend there is a grace to fall from in reality the soul is something with its snout firmly in the corpse of another.

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