Poetry

divided cover

Looking deeply into humanity’s interactions with the animal world, Linda Frank considers our fascination with and fear of nature, as well as our exploitation of all species. These poems catalogue not only the beautiful and sometimes deadly complexity of our natural world, but investigate the ways we have sought to understand it, highlighting the struggle of women scientists to push past misogyny. In these poems Nabokov’s butterflies live on beside flea circuses and von Frisch’s bees are as detailed as the habits of the jewel wasp. This is a collection written with a botanist’s eye and a scientist’s attention to cause and effect, both a lament and paean to a world that is vanishing.

Divided is available from Wolsak & Wynn, all fine independent bookstores and online through Amazon, AllLitup.ca and Chapters/Indigo.

Interviews for Divided

– Interview with Nancy Bullis on Howl at CIUT 89.5 FM on September 25, 2018

– Interview with Jamie Tennant on Get Life at CFMU Radio on July 19, 2018

Reviews for Divided

Linda Frank’s new book of poetry, “Divided,” is reaching us only now, like light from a star, several years after its delivery.

Such are the vagaries of publishing. Maybe it’s a good thing, from the standpoint of thematic emphasis.

The poetry in “Divided,” after all, covers those yawning distances and angles of remove — clinical, zoological, sexist — whereby we mistake knowledge and utility for close intimacy, possession for love.

“Jewel Wasp” is a case in point. In it we learn how the maternal jewel wasp lovingly prepares the optimum obstetrics for the survival and comfort of her young — by syringing poison into the brain of a cockroach, then laying her egg in the bassinet of its paralyzed abdomen.

When the larvae emerge, they eat their way into the roach’s body and consume its organs one by one. All of this time, you must understand, the wasps are careful to keep the roach alive, and for as long as possible. Isn’t that nice of them?

But lest you think, on the basis of this, that the insect world is simply remorseless and grotesque, more is in store. There are balancing beauties: The lyricism of bugs skipping on water, the spider’s thread in sunlight and the metaphoric versatility of the dragonfly — “Devil’s darning needle,” “water witch.”

And when the poet turns to the commerce between human and insect (and nature in general), she does not go gentle on us.

Her poem “Capture,” a user’s guide of sorts on how to impound and pin a butterfly, is as ironic and chilling a portrait as I’ve read about the everyday psychopathic ease with which the “human” distorts admiration, curiosity and passion into methodical, compartmentalized murder.

In the poem, this is all conveyed by suggestion and perfectly modulated overtone.

The “divided” of the book’s title, Linda says, derives partly from the Latin root resonance of “in sections;” divided animal.

But, of course, we really are the “divided” (from nature) and “dividing” animal, not the least of our divisions being gender.

“Who didn’t have to dissect a frog in school,” Linda asks rhetorically as we talk about the germ of her idea for a book on division.

Everything in the book about insects can be read — though it doesn’t have to be — as reflection on us, externalized psychology, from the cannibalizing sex of mantises to the omni-voracious locust.

And while “Divided” starts as though it might be all about insects, it becomes much more — there are takes on tadpoles, whitefish, birds.

And a prominent structural element of the book is a series of narrative-driven poems drawn from the biographies and practice of historical scientists, mostly naturalists, like Darwin, often contrasting male and female science experiences.

Her poem on environmentalist pioneer Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring,” and the difficulties she faced as a woman in science, is especially evocative and powerfully turned.

She also trades the magnifying glass of the insect watcher for the telescope of the astronomer in poems on William Herschel and his sister Caroline.

Linda Frank is one of Canada’s pre-eminent poets, winner of such awards as Banff Centre’s Bliss Carmen Poetry prize.

Growing up in Montreal, she almost became a biologist. Another division — a personal choice between the sciences and the humanities as a career pursuit.

She is still wonderstruck by nature and science, and uses them beautifully in this book to draw out the most myriad and finely observed insights, on everything from sexual politics and bedroom intimacy (or the lack of it) to species extinction, the swiftness of life, religion, control, capture, the call of the wild and children (Linda, by the way, has just become a grandmother).

She does this in poetic rhythms and language that leave in the reader a sensation of phosphorescence, they are so lit.

Even when the subject matter is gruesome, the expression of it hypnotizes with splendour: “She twists her metallic/ emerald body around him, glitters with captured/ lights, wrestles her way to his head, slips/ her stinger through his exoskeleton …”

These flights are measured against other sparser lines, aphoristic in their weight. Of the locusts, she writes: “They behave as they must.”

Linda’s book would have arrived much earlier but she changed publisher and could not be happier.

The volume produced earlier this summer by Hamilton’s own Wolsak and Wynn is a thing of beauty unto itself.

– Jeff Mahoney, The Hamilton Spectator

***

Linda Frank’s collection Divided (Wolsak & Wynn, 2018) is also about critters galore, some threatened, most at least ignored or dismissed by our rush-about world. This is a vital text as there is not a single piece in here that doesn’t consider other life forms than the human or, in a key section titled, “So Full of Ghosts,” pay long overdue attention to the discoverers of fossils, butterflies and other delicate essential elements of a full existence on this fragile planet. Many of these explorers and preservers of the natural realm have been women whose research was co-opted by male colleagues, as in the piece, “They Never Asked Any Questions,” spoken in the voice of the paleontologist, Annie Montague Alexander, who sits in the dust “marking and wrapping bones” by day but by night must still stir the “corn, rice, beans and soup” for the male members of the crew. Wonderful pieces include: Orb Weaver (which draws its rhythms and diction from Whitman), The Plume Trade, Half Mile Down, and Morning Glory. At times the tone becomes too pedantic and the music hushed, especially in the oft-muted endings, but regardless, these pieces are more than worth an embedding in your empathetic core.

– Catherine Owen, Marrow Reviews

***

Linda Frank’s new book Divided entrances through its uses of the unconventional and the (seemingly) incompatible. Frank’s work itself is “divided” into four parts. The first two sections are a collection of abstracted, symbol-heavy poetry with socio-political leanings; the third section is devoted to narrative, biographical poems recanting stories of defamed and forgotten female figures in the history of the sciences; and the fourth part is, by all outward appearances, an autobiographical poeticising of Frank’s own past. Though the first two parts are closely linked in most respects, the third and fourth sections find their common ground with the preceding two through a shared motif of insect and animal imagery. These recurring animal metaphors are highly evocative and, refreshingly, are rarely expounded too clearly for the reader. In the opening eponymous poem “Divided”, Frank seems to be using insects to stand in for man’s dim conception of women:   

                                    …They crawl up your legs/

                        buzz at the screen. They bite./Feed

                                                            on your blood. If he could bring himself

to touch them, he’d lash out

                                                and crush them.

How alien they are to him, yet how deeply present

to me. And how divided we are

                                                about their place in our world.

However, this interpretation is quickly challenged by later poems, in which the insects seem to stand in for the men as perceived by women. See, for example, “Swarm”, which alludes to the locust-like devastation wreaked by widespread misogyny: “They behave the way they must/…In blind collective instinct, they swarm./ Locusts, slippery and slick, carpet hundreds/of square miles, strip every plant/and crop in their path…”

Not every poem in these early sections is so brutal in its tone. See, for example, “Papillon de Nuit”, which through images of butterflies and moths recollects the memories, both cherished and lamentable, of what surely reads as an extinguished romance:

I caught you in a meadow of violet

                        and raspberry, a butterfly in the morning

                        light, navigating the sun

                                                            …so beautiful

I wanted to capture you, pin you to me forever

          …You roused from your chrysalis

            into the break of day, but your iridescence

            was a trick of scattering light.

Moths are not drawn to the flame, only fooled

                        by it. They have no choice. They plummet

                        in a spiral flight path closer

            and closer to that consuming light.

Nor are the poems all necessarily metaphorical. Several poems in the book’s second section treat their animal subjects more literally. “The Plume Trade” is, as its title suggests, a horrific recounting of the slaughter of birds as part of the feather trade (“Left the chicks screaming and the adults raw and bleeding/festering in the blazing sun”). The haunting “Torishima” evokes another bird slaughter: “…hunt them/in the millions with baseball bats to make pen quills,/aigrettes and mattress stuffing, thought the birds/fools who didn’t flee.” “Silkworm” unfolds in small sections, detailing the history of silkworm cultivation and massacre in the interest of silk production: “To harvest silk, we boil the worm in its own cocoon”. All these notions of mass animal killings in the name of capitalist production invite a Marxist interpretation of these poems.

Later in the book, religion comes under scrutiny: in “Origin” one of Charles Darwin’s crewmates declares, “They say he [Darwin] killed God/But…/I swear God was all around us”. What Frank seems to be approaching in poems such as this is a concept of Nature and animal life as a secular re-conceptualising (an evolution, perhaps) of the ancient metaphysics of religion. See, for example, “A Philosophy of Zoos”, one of the collection’s standout pieces: Frank perceives the denouncement of animal deities in favour of a single, non-representational ‘God’ as being an early warning sign of what has been passed down to us as speciesism: “Monotheism drove them from the ancient/temple, replaced the horse goddess Epona,/the golden calf, the jaguar … with the worship of an abstract god. Animal/demoted to demon”. Identity politics has become the prevailing theme of most recently acclaimed poetry collections, but Frank ventures into boldly unmapped territory by evoking animal rights amidst her meditations on gender, race and class oppression. Rarely is an animal’s uncanny glare rendered so effectively by a poet: “How then, to experience the holy shiver? How to look into the eyes/of powerful alien beings/and experience the fear and awe/we once found there?” For the Frank of these poems, and for her perceptive readers, the ‘holy shiver’ many attribute to the power of faith can be found in the uncanny, comprehending gaze of an animal.

None of these interpretations are ever in conflict with one another. Rather, they enhance an already dense set of poems by offering sundry entry points. In a time where much popular poetry resembles candid notebook entries or performative tantrums, Frank’s poems arrive refreshingly and consolingly classroom-ready.

I focus so much on these first two sections of Divided because they are poetically the strongest. Section III, with its portraits of singular but unappreciated women throughout history, is engaging as history but too literal as poetry. The lives reconstructed in the poems would make for a wonderful collection of essays, and Frank’s Zappendix which ends the whole volume is welcome and necessary research material, but as poetry these narrative pieces are overshadowed by the cryptic flourishes of parts I and II. Part IV feels even less of a piece with the first two sections, as Frank’s autobiographical poems lack the depth of the more stylised pieces and, as stories, they can’t live up to the epic scope of the lives explored in section III. However, taken as a whole, Divided is an exceptionally strong collection. The incongruity of the latter two sections with the first two just poses one more challenge of interpretation for the reader to overcome, one which will surely be worth embarking upon during sumptuous re-readings, seeking out previously dormant holy shivers.

  Zachary Thompson,  Hamilton Review of Books

Covers

These books are available at:

MixedMedia
1058 King Street West Hamilton
905-527-2442
mixedmediahamilton@gmail

and

Epic Books, 
226 Locke Street, Hamilton ON
905 525 6538
info@epicbooks.ca

 

Reviews for Kahlo: The World Split Open

Frida Kahlo, in Linda Frank’s kaleidoscopic envisioning, wants love, she her own best subject. Both Braid and Frank use versions of found poems, increasing verisimilitude. While Braid’s are carefully documented in the notes (including a grade 13 essay by Gould, his text on radio documentaries), Frank’s are pleasingly casual, identified as from diary entries or a letter in wee notes after poems. A glossary of flavourful Spanish, the only scaffolding, appears at the end of the book.
Frank’s book, winner of a 2008 Bliss Carman award for poetry and shortlisted for the 2009 Pat Lowther Award, focuses on the turbulent emotional life that fed Kahlo’s art. In a seamless mix of first- and second-person poems, Frank creates a larger-than-life picture of Kahlo. They lurch with synesthesia, sensuality (as Braid’s move with fierce rhythms). Frank works inductively, with names of Kahlo’s friends and family in the titles prompting attentive reading.
Several works address husband and fellow painter Diego Rivera, one particularly
heartbreaking, about his dalliance with her sister. “Morning After” sees Kahlo watching
a falcon “[tear] the fresh meat from the small bones of a helpless tanager.” Another stunner features a mock tribunal for Leon Trotsky, her lover. Several about paintings seem almost four-dimensional, and the images are vivid in the mind’s eye. In “I Paint My Reality,” Kahlo says, “my broken body / is politic, history, country / love, pain, the whole world. . . .” It, like every poem in the collection, teems with life, and this reviewer was distraught when the collection was finished. The final poem, “The Blue House,” headed by Kahlo’s death date, asserts, buried like a commonplace, “[S] he lived her art.”

– Canadian Literature

***

Linda Frank’s second verse collection, following Cobalt Moon Embrace (2002), is Kahlo: The World Split Open. Presenting a fictional poetic biography of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (1907-54), Frank’s style is rambunctious, perhaps to imitate the vagaries of her subject’s life and the vividness of her canvases…
… The singular advantage of Frank is her almost reckless abandon in trying to capture the frenzy of Frida Kahlo’s life and art. She gives us no brooding drama, but charismatic figures (including Leon Trotsky and Diego Rivera), first-person murder and present-tense sex, and zesty argument and impassioned painting. There’s clearly drama in a book whose first word is “Corsets,” and soon Frank’s Frida is telling us, “I want to adorn my corsets / Make them obscene // They hung me by my head from a beam / for hours to dry my cast. / They put me / into traction, pulled my spine with weights // Painting is my own true medicine. . . .”
She is a compelling speaker, this persona, and so she should have an ego and show some spunk: “I painted what I saw / Nothing more / I painted myself / I was the subject / I knew best. . . . // look at my hair, my dress / my jewelry, the parrots / and monkeys and the dogs. See / how they push the pain / off the canvas.” Frank’s Frida further explains, “anything that escapes / the canvas escapes the body / but paint remembers, pushes through / pentimento // because I want to split the world / wide open.”
Such sentiments – the Trudeauvian seeking after power and glory – is also an echo of Irving Layton, his own bravura self-making. Frank lives in Hamilton, Ontario, and she exudes not only steel-town’s gutsiness, but also Montreal’s gusto. Her weakness? Not knowing her own lean strength, Frank piles on the words.

– George Elliott Clarke

***

Linda Frank has published three chapbooks: Taste the Silence; …lt Takes A Train To Cry and Orpheus Descending. Her first book-length collection, Cobalt Moon Embrace,was released in 2002 from Buschek Books. Her second, Kahlo: The World Split Open,is a poetic reflection on the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who is best known for her self-portraits. The latter was shortlisted for the 2009 Pat Lowther Award. Frank won the Bliss Carman Poetry Award in 2008 for a poem from her third collection, “lnsomnie Blues,” an as yet unpublished book of poetry structured on the twelve-bar blues.

 For some time now, the theme of biography has ignited the imagination of poets —possibly as a reaction to the confessional poetry inaugurated in 1959 with RobertLowell’s Life Studies. Recent examples are Mitchell Parry’s Imperfect Penance, inspired by the life of Georg Trakl, Douglas Burnet Smith’s Sister Prometheus: Discovering Marie Curie, and Jan Homer’s Mama Dada, inspired by the life of Baroness Else von Freytag-Loringhoven, who was connected with the Dadaist movement. Linda Frank has added to this growing collection through her take-off on the life of Frida Kahlo.

 Kahlo was a great painter (and married to the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera),merging in her art the indigenous cultures of Mexico with the European art movements of Realism, Symbolism and Surrealism in an exuberant burst of colour. Tormented throughout her life by the pain associated with spina bifida, polio, and a bus accident in 1925 that resulted in a broken spinal column and a number of broken bones. As if that weren’t enough, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus, seriously damaging her reproductive ability. Still, she managed to create great art. lt is this creation of great art in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles that has inspired Frank. She has captured this in “l Paint My Own Reality”:

 because my body is the canvas

of my self and to paint myself

over and over is how

 l claim it from the margins

because my broken body

is politic, history, country

love, pain, the whole world (23)

 In these first two stanzas of the four that comprise this poem, Frank has captured the essence of erupture from pain, a rising of the self from the ashes of the body. She uses Kahlo as the expression of feminism–the freeing of the self from the pain and subjugation of the body into the essence of creativity. ls it through the breaks in Kahlo’s body that Frank’s muse rises?

She explores this idea further in ‘A Parrot Screaming‘ where Kahlo “even on her deathbed . . ./dress / as if for a fiesta. But no festive dress / could suppress the pain.”(47) The second stanza contains a rich, evocative image of this festiveness “Fringed / silk Spanish shawls and heavy pre-Columbian / necklaces.” There may have been a better placed line break here, such as between ‘heavy’ and ‘pre’ or even between ‘pre’ and ‘Columbian’ but that is mere quibble to an otherwise outstanding poem. The essential nature of both Kahlo and this poem reaches out from the final stanza:

 She dressed this way for Diego

and for her country but above all

she dressed to draw the eye away

from her fractured body

A parrot screaming in the jungle

Undoubtedly, there should have been a period at the end of the penultimate line. The verb ‘screaming’ is extremely well chosen.

 In “The Frame,” the title of one of Kahlo’s paintings hanging in the Louvre, Frank ‘ captures Kahlo’s Parisian period in the third stanza:

 Miro hugs me. Kandinsky kisses me

Picasso gives me a gift of earrings, beautiful

tortoise shell hands with gold cuffs. But to Breton

 and the others I am a Mexican trophy

Only a woman could embody their exotic idea

of Mexico. Patronizing bastards (51)

She speaks strongly through this feminist tone summarizing the state of art and gender. The reader by this time notices a trend. Whenever a period is called for at the end of a line it is often absent. Who knows whether this was a printer’s error or something to do with an unexplained and inexplicable poetics? It is one of the few  weaknesses in the collection.

 Although both males and females have explored this new theme of biographyFrank has used it as vehicles to express feminist issues as well as to express solidarity with female artists. Frank has done a particularly good job of portraying Frida Kahlo’s life, capturing the pain and the joy of creation as well as the difficulties a woman had to overcome to be accepted in her own right as an artist. – John Herbert Cunningham for Prairie Fire

Despite the immersive, historical lyricism dominant in this collection of poems about surrealist painter Frida Kahlo, Linda Frank still manages to exhibit the distinctiveness of her own poetic voice; she generally shores the narrative without sacrificing style. Her multifaceted and polyphonic poetic narrative – one that relies on emphasis, objective viewpoints, lyric voices, epistolary forms, diary excerpts, and an intelligent assimilation of Kahlo s biography – is carefully crafted, for example, as Kahlo’s health falters, her lyric “l” becomes ominously lowercase. At times, her style resembles something vaguely imagistic, but I was particularly struck by the similarities to Elizabeth Smart‘s brilliant By Grand Central Station I sat Down and Wept (1945). Both are poetic biographies of sorts (an autobiography in the case of Smart), both are stories driven by  “addictive” (Frank 80) love, and both poets rely on an occasionally similar accumulation of complex metaphors and images. Most impressive in Frank’s work, however, is her confluence of Kahlo’s visual art and her own poetry:

“She paints the stare of a woman railing I unable to free herself from the fragments I of alliteration, sound and sense I sound and sense” (50). Passages such as these demonstrate Frank’s strict authority over her subject; she translates a visual medium onto the written page and foregrounds the poetic construct of the painter and her image. Yet at other points, Kahlo’s life story takes precedence over the poetry, which results in some weaker sections: “hair long and loose she sits I in verdant vegetal ontology” (87). The forced alliteration comes across clumsily, as opposed to the careful structuring of earlier passages: “Beauty has the shape! of your neck Frida I the turn of your lip I the toss of your hair I And in one of those moments I of real passion, l almost! bend down to whisper l love you” (54). The quickness of the lines is beautifully rhythmic, but the last two lines in particular, through enjambment, cleverly juxtapose Diego’s (Kahlo’s perfidious husband) submissive genuflection and love with his arrogant ambivalence toward both. Equally striking is Frank’s anaphoric constructions: “how much I is a lie I how much I conjecture and I how much depends upon I how much I honesty means to me” (52). The necessary reconstruction required for these quite dense and broken staccato lines signals the poet’s admirable resistance to passive readership and her precision of craft. One major flaw in this collection ,however, is that Frank does not provide any kind of bibliography for the reader. There are numerous times when such a list would have been helpful, if only to direct her audience to a more straightforward biography of this fascinating and strong historical figure. More importantly, it would be worth knowing where the diary entries and other inclusions come from (archives? quoted from other publications? drawn from Julie Taymor’s 2001 biopic?). Nevertheless, Frank anatomizes Kahlo’s turbulent life effectively through her juggling of various lyric, objective, and poetic voices.

–  J.A. Weingarten

***

Reviews for Insomnie Blues

Linda Frank’s book, Insomnie Blues, is the easiest to get into. She writes without obfuscation, without formalism, singing the Medication Blues about her insomnia and its accompaniments in a clear, confident style. If only more of the people unwillingly awake at 3 a.m. would channel their sleeplessness into poetry instead of watching bad TV.
Granville Street draws a surprising parallel between drug addiction and the creative impulse. Last Suppers in Texas details the final meals of nine executed prisoners, intriguing snapshots that linger well after consumption.

– Chronicle Herold

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Reviews for Cobalt Moon Embrace

Linda Frank spins memories and orphic dreams while held in thrall by the triple moon goddess. Paths of life are traced by departing birds, remnants of things left behind, and accumulated moments winding across morning skies. Frank’s richly metaphoric, mythological method incorporates natural imagery and symbolic sites, including hill-country plateaus, sensuous serpents, and ancient Abbeys. Shifting from Montreal to Hamilton, many of these poems allude equally to esoteric spirituality and pop culture ballads. In Cobalt Moon, the world of the living is kept at arm’s length, yet the self is explored so that fleshly passions emerge through turbulent dream-songs embracing Kurt Cobain, Orpheus, Carlos Castenada, Leonardo Di Caprio, and J.S. Bach.

– Canadian Literature