Swan Light is her latest foray into the music of the spheres—a book of collected personal mythologies, autobiographical narratives, lyrical celebrations of the paradox, and elegies to perhaps our greatest sadness: the loss of parents. Eschewing the temptation of Romantic swoon, her collection is no swan song. She bathes the experience of such inevitable departure in luminosity, kaddish, and jubilee.
The book is a wayfaring to the sacred realms of being that are divided into two: the natural world and the quest for it and the deep sentiment it spawns within the confines of urbanity. Many of the poems’ settings are enlivened with the sumptuous details of California flora and fauna. Etched in Snyderian appreciation for redwood forests and the lost coasts so close and yet so distant to the ticky-tacky sprawl, her axis mundi is the mountain enshrouded temple of the Bay Area. And her excursions into and about Arcadia always return us to the sensuality that these places inspire:
swim through the water
the alphabet of your skin.
The poet merges with her subjects. Transmogrification is her and her audience’s destiny. Frank’s appreciation for the exotica of the natural world is effortlessly translated to her fascination with how we process the unbearable lightnesses and shadow lands of being. The mind-altering diversity, both environmental and societal, of a place like San Francisco is the palette for her ruminations that seek to connect the complexity of creation with its elusive capital C with the way it is filtered through the labyrinthine hanging gardens of human mind.
The daily inspiration of living in a place that offers so many possibilities of interpreting our collective being is this poet’s bliss. In “Meditation on the MUNI”, she creates a brilliant poetic characterization, born of her insight as a musician, of what the beautiful mélange of languages become, transforming cacophony into symphony:
Swedish – a wobbling luge.
German and Hebrew – an argument
into the wounds of the previous century.
Nepali – rocks in a river
singing under white water.
Hindi – an amber flow of chanting honey.
French – a casual flirtation
at the painted tables of a café
by the left bank.
The list gloriously continues as her understanding of cadence and melody marks one of the best characterizations of the musicality of language to this date in contemporary American verse. She is no Wordsworth finding Babylon in London; she is a Calliope finding transformation in the word spoken.
What Swan Light achieves is a type of tonality characteristic of the backlighting of cathedral glass, of the glow of moon on hallowed ground, a sensibility that is aurific. The poems are pilgrimages to her various homes– East Coast origins, fallow Iowan fields, Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, and that one destination known as loss and the detours taken to avoid the abyss of sentimentality and nostalgia.
The power of this new collection recreates a feeling of first flight or vertigo that is inevitable when we risk the deep feeling of grasping the eternally transitory nature of being. Diane Frank takes the reader to places and experiences bathed in sensuality and the knowledge that these moments of ecstasy will one day temporally cease but the journey within them and the mystical unification offered is as dramatically rewarding.. She shows us as a reality greater than the real:
a deeper vision is whispering,
letting you throw
whatever stops you from dancing
into the fire.
She is a visionary whose talent reminds us of the Borges assertion that poetry “remembers that it was first song”. Swan Light is a book that resounds in philosophical resonance and with it we are graced with desire’s joys and torments, rhapsodically preened.
Recent work of Philip Kobylarz's appears or will appear in Connecticut Review, Basalt, Santa Fe Literary Review, New American Writing, Poetry Salzburg Review and has appeared in Best American Poetry. His book, Rues, was recently published by Blue Light Press of San Francisco.