A Generation of Insomniacs by Anthony Frame
Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2014; 82 pp
Review by Mark Allen Jenkins
Many are surprised to learn that Toledo, Ohio exists. Blame it on the syndication of M*A*S*H* and its character Clinger, the watered down Yossarian who hailed from there and regularly exclaimed “Holy Toledo.” Anthony Frame’s debut poetry collection shows that Toledo is indeed a real place. A Generation of Insomniacs considers both his home town, his family and friends, and a love of pop culture, especially music.
The opening poem, “How to Write a Poem in Toledo, Ohio” suggests that the city may not seem initially like the most poetic setting, yet it’s where the speaker inhabits, where he has to figure out for himself how to thrive here as a poet. You must “start with the churches” then “Hang out with your union-hating buddies,// get them drunk on Buckeye Beer and spend/ three hours calling them fascists.” It becomes then for this speaker about inhabiting Toledo and trying out extremes “in high school, excel at earning Cs./ then get straight As in college before//dropping out like your father” and keeping in touch with its blue collarness as “here, we fray. Here, we rust. Remember that.” This reality filtered through the poet’s personal experience is a common thread in this collection.
The poem “bottle Rockets” Juxtaposes world events, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11, against his mother’s response to such events, “I can’t remember when Challenger// fractured into clouds but I know my mother’s fingernails,/ painted sky blue, as she twisted the volume knob/ on the black and white kitchen TV and whistled/ “Build Me up, Buttercup.’ ” The narrator’s mom tries to shield her son from world events or at least turn t. This poem also is one of many in the collection infused with a love of music, a theme, but also a unifying force, and a balm of sorts for Frame. His love for grunge especially comes through in several poems (“Obligatory Eulogy For Kurt Cobain..” “Psuedo-Sonnet Composed Entirely of Cut Up Nirvana Lyrics”, “Left of the Dial,” “Round on the Outside, High in the Middle”). Having deep familiarity with Grunge is not a requirement to appreciate these poems, but would no doubt help.
The subtle invocation of Toledo in Frame’s life both specific memories and also season weather that inhabits some poems (“Toledo, Ohio in December 2006 (54°),” “Warming Trend,” “Toledo, Ohio in April, 2009 (23°)”) is a particular strength to the collection. The poem “Toledo, Ohio in April, 2009 (23°)” evokes unpredictable weather and his occupation “Second straight day of snow to welcome spring/ and I’m on the road at four in the morning,// filling my city with pesticides.” Frame’s bio on the books back cover mentions his work as an exterminator, a topic I thought might come more often in the book than it does. This poem acknowledges some reluctance in his job of spraying chemicals, even if they are beneficial chemicals “Even/ the library isn’t safe (forgive me,// Rachel Carson.” The way he covers spaces with spray, he compares it to the way the snowfall covers “Snow, don’t stop. Cover this green country.” A beautiful ending and I think a fitting late collection poem.
A Generation of Insomniacs is a welcome addition into the poetry world of a poet balancing both his outward experience with this inner experience and gets deeper with each read.