Picture World
by by Niels Frank, trans. Roger Greenwald
BookThug, $18 (paper)

“Everything behind you is memory loss / everything in front of you a brand new theory of the self,” the impulsive speaker announces in the second of these 24 numbered poems. Reading more like an extended and inspired monologue than a sequence of individual poems, Niels Frank’s Picture World is gripped by fits of zany attention and an overwhelming desire to make something permanent. 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.” But it would be misguided to assume that this is just another poetry collection that deals with the subjective struggles of a speaker trapped in a plastic and unforgiving world. Frank, who writes in Danish, produces a 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 a smattering of buzzwords. But Frank’s project isn’t about social justice, though it tries hard to encompass it, along with everything else. Rather, this is a book about how to meet the world of images, or our own world, head-on: “At least it seems to me that I’m not unhappy / and that I’m not unhappy fills me with joy.”