Review: “Paper Guillotines” by Anthony Frame

Paper Guillotines

The first poem of Anthony Frame’s chapbook Paper Guillotines opens with the line: “Today, I realized I’m the same age as AIDS”. From there it’s only a single line to the first mention of 9/11. So the collection hits the ground running, and as you move through this set of thirteen short poems you’ll see that it refuses to let up.

It’s difficult to pin down a single idea or theme which unites every entry in the selection. “America’s Penis” speaks about suicide bombings, whereas “-K-” explores issues surrounding hurricane Katrina. The range of themes and ideas covered by these verses is wide, but that’s not to say that it isn’t also quite intently focussed. All of the poems are strongly political, strongly American, and very, very modern. If pushed, they could perhaps be broadly marked with the tag “anti-war”, or “liberal” or any other such basic descriptor.

Ultimately, however, no amount of labels can define Frame’s view of the world. That’s what Paper Guillotines is for, and it does the job admirably. So these poems have messages, but they’re not message-poems. They stand up for themselves. They are artworks in their own right. And that, more than anything else, is a testament to Frame’s ability with verse. He resists the temptation to be carried away by rage and indignation and instead remains measured, meticulous, honest. There’s even a certain cool wit evident in the poems, as can be seen in these lines from “The Country I Come From”:

Won’t read dengue
haemorrhagic
fever, no matter
how many times
you write it.
Thinks it is French.

As the chapbook progresses, it only gets heavier, building towards a stunning and sobering conclusion. The final poem–titled “Thirteen Things My Military Students Tell Me They Can’t Tell Their Parents”–concerns war. It’s sharp, quick and brutal, and forms a suitably sobering end-point for the set.

Though at times bleak and difficult to read, Paper Guillotines repays the time spent reading. It is available from Imaginary Friend Press, at www.imaginaryfriendpress.com.

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Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England.