This work, rewarding as it is demanding, begins with the exciting proposition of an extra-existence “Outside the Egg.” The language is abstract, challenging us not to let the usual literary prejudices against abstraction blind us to inherent musicality and intellectual lyricism.
The third poem, Who?, startles us with the challenge of the first two lines to understanding ourselves:
separating Self from Start, a bubble
between Beginning and Spume
Right away we understand that what we have understood about ourselves is up for grabs. This is going to be a white-knuckle ride into the unknown, a metapysical roller coaster. We’re going to encounter the “fizz moment,” the “fore-moment,” “the instilling ground.”
As Digitopia seems to encourage us to skim-read, Franck offers another approach in this book of intellectual songs. Read it first for sound, read it again for phrase-making, and then connect the dots between song, psalm, equation and conclusion. Franck may be approached with dread, as many of us were conditioned to approach mathematics, or with the high anticipation of one who knows that in the zero lies the grandeur of higher math.
Once, when we engaged with William Carlos Williams and the Imagists we were told that little red wheel barrows and scummy ponds, objects and ordinary people were as important as grand ideas, more relevant to our experience. We were told to be wary of hifalutin words and grandiose ideas. Intoning the Fluid Hypostasis: Songs, Starts, Existences and Measures—speaking of grand ideas—invites us to walk back from that Imagist spell to an acceptance of intellectual rap, to a fluttering, as in taking flight, of words that ordinarily do not take wing and yet here are made to take wing like Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, kept out of sight for 33 years because it was felt it was an aeronautical improbability.
Williams and H.D. and the other Imagists offer us the splendor of simplicity, of the grain of wood, the angle of the nail, but once we take their poetics as cant we diminish their poetics. Abstraction and latinate formulation in the hands of pretentious academics becomes bafflegab, but in the hands of metaphysicians like Franck it becomes the same kind of means simplicity is—a way of shedding light, a way of fashioning algorithms that untie the knots in which our beings are bound.
Any literary theory used to disparage rather than enlighten, used to exclude rather than embrace, is suspect. We must keep this in mind when we accept Andrew Franck’s invitation to sing these songs. We must not allow au courant ideas about what constitutes poetry trip us up at the start of this magisterial spiritual adventure. And adventure it is.
Take, for example, the very next title, Arriving In Time For Our Mothers To Birth Us. What a breathtaking notion. Arriving from where? What definition of time are we using? Did we select our mothers? Franck’s words again and again strike sparks, make startling suggestions, stir our minds. Sing the line. Let it sink in. Revel in it. Arriving from where? Whose time?
Even iff you skip the songs and only read the titles you will be blessed with more than one epiphany. Take Page 114, Planetary Ejaculate Cluster & Other Certainties. Sleep on that. Try not to let it faze you. Try not to argue with its density. See what your subconscious presents you with in the morning.
Or take Page 121, The Inexorable Second Crucifixion. “Christ has risen to become/a shared embarassment/a brand, a problem, a neurosis/kept at soul’s length,” the poet sings. Can we sing it with him? Can we hit those high metaphysical notes? Surely our churches have turned Christ into a brand. You can hardly let let a single word by Franck slip by for fear you’ve missed a book in a word.
“Christ” has risen to become
a shared embarrassment
a brand, a problem, a neurosis
kept at soul’s length….
a heresy of which Arthur Rimbaud might have been proud, but a challenge to rethink the meaning of the risen Christ, to consider the ways in which we have sought to contain and dogmatize the most hair-raising aspects of the Christian message.
Franck’s lines and stanzas, his cadences and rhythms reflect his work as a physician, osteopath, musician and painter. The poems resemble the body’s parts and organs in their diversity and their connectedness. Both as homeopath and alchemist, Franck seeks in his poems to restore harmony with harmonics and attunement.
These free-verse lyrics, sparsely punctuated if at all, are in their own way as intellectually rewarding and perilous as George Chapman’s formal and famously enigmatic The Shadow of Night.
We live in an era in which we often resent poetry that makes demands and prefer musings about grandpa’s spectacles. We prefer what draws a laugh in the same way thoughtful poetry is often overshadowed at slams and open mics by frivolous lesser work. But what Franck has to say is worth the journey, every line.