CUTBANK REVIEWS: Picture World by Niels Frank

201109_LPicture World by Niels Frank, trans. Roger Greenwald. Bookthug, 2011 Reviewed by Nate Pritts


For me, the process of reading is highly reflective, is apperceptive, & in fact (I’m sorry) I don’t always remember WHAT I’m reading though I am deeply enmeshed in an experiential moment that matters to me more than anything & which could only be brought about by the particular words in front of me.  Below, I’ve blended some of my own stanzas (from a poem called “Genesis Cascade”) with a review I’ve been working on.  Neither are finished.

Thank God.


The internet helps me meditate

because it is a field

upon which nothing happens


               a blank.


“Everything behind you is memory loss/everything in front of you a brand new theory of the self” blurts out the impulsive speaker in “2,” one of the 24 numbered poems in Niels Frank’s recently translated sequence.  Reading more like an extended and inspired monologue, the poems here are gripped by fits of zany attention in an overwhelming desire to make something permanent.


My head is emptied of intentionality

which is to say

              I am happy

to forget it is trash night.

Outside it is so cold

I would gladly leave this body.


At issue is the delicate tension between subjective and objective space, as Frank explores early on: “[…] I’d very much like to show you a world/or at least my world./There is a lot to say about it but no way/to say it” (“1”). But to assume this is another poetry collection that deals with the subjective struggles of a speaker trapped in a plastic and unforgiving world would be wrong.


The air is purple & the motion sensor

above the garage recognizes

                my human movement

& activates            which means


The real strength here is the muscular and discursive syntax which allows the talky lines to chart an emotional range that veers from brash and self-assured to dejected and fragile, from bold and humorous to frenetic and unhinged.  One poem begins with a litany of contemporary political subjects – “I’m forgetting Gaza/Chechnya/Guantánamo” – which could easily be dismissed as buzzword namedropping.


I have not been successful

at non-being.                        I drag one bulky can

to the curb.            I kick the blue bin

that holds the recyclables


& it skids down the iced driveway.

I want to sit down

                 & watch the passing cars

for hours            the whole rest of the night


But Frank’s project isn’t about social justice, though it tries hard to encompass it and everything else.  “At least it seems to me that I’m not unhappy/and that I’m not unhappy fills me with joy” is the broadest statement the speaker leaves us with as we learn how to meet the Picture World, or our own head on (“1”).


every star blinking out            on purpose



I grab two handfuls of snow

          mash them together

          shape them


my breath more alive

as I try to track the coming cars            & aim

          & I miss.


Niels Frank published his first book in 1985. He has published six books of poems, two of essays, two that mix genres, a collection of narratives about well-known artists (and one anonymous forger), and a volume of photos. He has also translated poetry into Danish (notably that of John Ashbery and Anne Carson).

Roger Greenwald has won the CBC Literary Award twice (for poetry and travel literature). His books include Connecting Flight(poems); Through Naked Branches: Selected Poems of Tarjei Vesaas; and North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen, winner of the Lewis Galantière Award.

Nate Pritts is the author of six books of poems, most recently Right Now More Than Ever. He founded H_NGM_N, an online journal & small press, in 2001 & serves as Director & Prime Architect for its various endeavors