CAConrad, The Book of Frank, Wave Books, $16 (paper)
For all the open sincerity it’s meant to imply, when one begins a statement with the caveat “to be frank,” rest assured that what follows is bound to land somewhere between unsettling and vitriolic. Speaking frankly isn’t something we’re all that comfortable doing, precisely because it forces us out of the comfort of complacent non-engagement. As both a poet and an activist, or more poignantly in his refusal to make a distinction between the two, CAConrad continually speaks up, speaks out, and speaks frankly, forcing a re-evaluation of culturally pervasive notions about what constitutes normative gender, sexuality, and domesticity. But The Book of Frank is not a polemic, exactly; rather, in a mode reminiscent of John Berryman’s Dream Songs, Conrad’s sequence of untitled, short poems catalogs via the character of Frank the aftermath of the archetypal events of life: birth, childhood, independence, sexual awaking, marriage, parenting, and death. These events are not narrated as much as given an absurdist, allegorical spin—part Kafka, part Jungian imagery, but always clearly articulated. This allows the immediate shock of their sometimes-nightmarish situations (waking with revolvers in one’s hands, eating from a tampon, a wall covered in sores, several miscarried fetuses kept on display in jars, etc.) to transform into a biting and parabolic critique of the assumptions we’ve inherited about familial interactions. At once charming and frightening, The Book of Frank will certainly take the top of your head off, and it might just replace it with something better.