Plain orange cover with small cream/peach letteringFrank, Chrissy Banks

Smith/Doorstop, 2021     £6.50

On being frank

This pamphlet starts with an epigraph: a dictionary definition of the adjective ‘frank’. Then the opening poem is the collection’s title poem, concerning someone who asserted young his own authority: ‘He didn’t give a toss if they agreed or not.’ And the poet is left admiring this example:

What I’m thinking now, too late, is this:
I could have learned a lot from Frank.

It’s a great start to a pamphlet that is frank, throughout. Many of the poems are short neat tales: accounts of encounters, often humorous. ‘Her skin shines / like butterscotch’, we learn of the exceptional ‘Body Jam’ teacher ‘Ola’.

And then some poems go deeper, and subtler, and remain frank, and these are the ones that excite me. ‘What’s the Matter, Christine Fox?’ beautifully captures the poet-as-schoolgirl who can’t open up to a potentially helpful teacher: ‘What colour and shape are shame? And how to begin?’

‘I’m Probably Wasting My Time and Yours’ manages to replicate nervous energy on the page: ‘I waste my time / half listening to news on the radio / while reading news on my phone’. Why do we expend energy, this poem seems to ask. Because ‘There is no safe place, / what’s lost is never coming back, what’s done / cannot be undone.’

While ‘Black Cat and Rabbit’, a poem that has stayed with me since I read it first in The North, concerns two people stuck in a role lock, mirrored in an outdoor scene:

In the middle of my tale about Nita, how I am paralysed
by her rage, how she leaves me nowhere to go,
how love and pain sit hand in hand with her,
I see through the long glass garden doors, your cat
come from the field

The closing poem is ‘The Waves’. It encompasses so much — how humans struggle to support each other; how hard that is to sustain:

you look out of the window at Rosanne,
nineteen, half-naked, trying to suck warmth
from a roll-up

Here are things that need talking about: ‘but only when / you talk about drowning is anyone / nervous enough to listen.’ Powerful poems, disarming in their frankness.

Charlotte Gann