When a musician writes poetry, the results are often stereotypical rock lyrics. But for a poet who isn’t plugged-in to traditional systems of academic tutelage, “slam” performance poetry, traditional rhythmic structures or even the mainstream publishing industry, the results can be unexpected—and at times breathtakingly inventive.
Brian Frandsen, an English/political science major at the University of Utah and former drummer for local band Kingdoms Falling, hasn’t taken any formal classes in poetry or creative writing. That hasn’t stopped him from writing several books of poetry, including his new self-published, Dear X’s O’s and Y’s. “Self-published” usually means amateurish doggerel, but the 100-page book consisting of one long poem evidences considerable technical ability.
It’s an extended meditation, more or less in the form of a letter, on a wide range of topics including politics, history, the media and consciousness itself. The cryptic title could refer to relationship “exes,” the hugs and kisses in a salutation or the chromosomes that determine gender. Any, all or none of the above—it’s that kind of poetry, full of allusions that beckon for interpretation even as they resist it. “The poem is a collection of my thought patterns, both broken and continuous,” he says of his stream-of-consciousness writing method.
The book starts right off the blocks in a political bent: “Do not worry, the guy who is teaching us all of this does not have a mustache,” referring to Hitler and Stalin as well as Saddam, mocking the American public’s faith in appearances and belief that dictatorship could not occur here. Syntax as well as political rhetoric become convoluted: “This urge to rate/Your guy was/More evil than/Our guy was not more/Evil than your guy.”
There is a nod to the “mods” in the high poetic modernism of passages—“Do you think we can dig to the core/At the center and finding it to be none/And asking/Finding the none to be/None/In and out of/Any framework”—that evoke T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett. “Done with the past/The future/We have only this/Instantaneous combustion!” reveals his fondness for Emily Dickinson, as well as a contemporary philosophical perspective. Brief sound bites don’t do justice to sections that go on for pages and, according to Frandsen, were at times written all at one stretch. “The generation before the/Generation before them all/Back to the origin/Six days or seven or/An ape got loose from the zoo ...” comes from a three-and-a-half page run at theology.
Not surprisingly, Frandsen finds a way to work his musical interests into the work. “There is something appealing in the way Bob/Molded his/Screams every other track/Pretending there is no time” puns on HÃ¼sker DÃ¼ frontman Bob Mould’s name, and came out of an evening the author got lost in their New Day Rising album. A more far-fetched pun conflates John Deere of tractor-and-headwear fame with X guitarist John Doe: “When I talked about busting caps my plan was to place hats ... Evaporating eyes are reporting that your name is showing up/In loads of songs/You hit and run Pauline/Live at the Whiskey.”
He even alludes to local politics. “Tough on crime/The ones we commit have to be looked at in context/Share riffs across editorial pages/Vote for me/I cannot tell a lie/I cannot shed my clothes/All these public meetings” comments both on politics in general, and on last year’s race for Salt Lake County sheriff, during which Sheriff Aaron Kennard was assailed in the media for wearing his uniform to public meetings.
In the face of contemplation that seems ultimately a bit overwhelming, the poem and poet ultimately unplugs to retreat into a house in the middle of nowhere where he could listen to Beethoven: “The up and away of/Dreaming of a house/Acreage making/The space for sound to cover/The greenest earth ... All the space is/Necessary for the masterworks/To thunder in. ...” As for the reader response to this epistolary epic, Frandsen answers his own question, in typically modernist fashion: “Someone asked me how I was /And I told them/How it was going/And they listened/The whole time they were listening.”