The Right Note: Review of Diane Frank’s “Canon for Bears and Ponderosa Pines”

Diane Frank reads from her new book of poetry on November 5 in Fairfield.

It’s been said that artists suffer from a host of unfortunate maladies; we are self-doubting, fretful, and worst, we fear that we have missed our mark. Our work doesn’t quite meet the standards we’ve set, we haven’t exactly expressed that one subtle emotion that is so elusive but so rich. One anecdote has it that Robert Haas, former U.S. Poet Laureate, stepped down from a podium bemoaning a misplaced word. The composer Schumann insisted he could never write a symphony “while Beethoven was alive.”

Yet sometimes we do hit the mark, even if we might not fully allow ourselves the luxury of enjoying it. And while San Francisco poet Diane Frank has a bead on gnomes, fairies, tree spirits, and the inner lives of planets, her “holy grail” is finding the right note, both in music and in poems.

From “Fire Walk:”

“It’s all a coded message

A humid afternoon of petals

Even if the truth shines only for a nanosecond

Before it evaporates again”


Frank might find herself occasionally frustrated as a cellist and musician, suffering the Shumann syndrome, but as a poet, she nails just the right note in many of the new poems in Canon for Bears and Ponderosa Pines (Glass Lyre Press, 2018). Expertly mining dance, music, dreams, travel imagery, nature and even miso soup for inspiration, throughout the collection, Frank reaches, not just for the stars, but into history.


From “Margalit:”

“The younger dancer didn’t have what she did—

the swaying of eucalyptus leaves on her fingers,

the taste of old world salt on her breath.

Margalit was like the flamenco dancer

With fire in her throat,

Hibiscus on her lips,

Belly swaying in the rhythm of the sea.”


In this poem, we see an aging dancer, rich with experience, muscle memory. Weathering has only made her more compelling, more beautiful. For this dancer, time has been a gift.


In “October Secret” Frank goes deep into the history of the Cloud People, a lost tribe:

“You were the belly dancer

whose hips etched a silver cloud

backlit by the moon.

You rippled the ocean

With salty light, as your thighs became

Hills blooming with marigolds.”


Frank’s vocabulary is holistic; her poems address body, mind, and spirit. The reader experiences not just a mind or a heart, but a whole being reaching, journeying, expressing, and occasionally, channeling the holy.

Her passion for music inherited from her mother, Frank writes in the prose poem “Music of the Spheres”:

“My mother is learning over a concert grand piano, mirrored hands . . . her voice, a blend of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Danny Kaye. She sings with the musical mahatmas, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Tommy Dorsey: tossing solos like rings around the moon.”

Frank has devoted her life to exploring a different but equally compelling musical journey:

In “Cello Lesson” Frank recounts a night in Ashland, Oregon, after she had heard a sublime performance of D-Minor Bach Sarabande. In the poem, she imagines the cellist whispering to her:


“Let all technique

fly out the window

into the salty waves

and from your heart

let that beautiful note



In “Intermezzo” (for Tchaikovsky) she writes:

“. . . life is a series of triangular

with adagio honey in between.

The musician swims with the dancer.

The dancer longs for the firebird.

A long, flying leap

Keeps his heart from floating away.”


A beloved teacher of poetry, a mentor, a dancer, and a cellist, Frank defies Schumann by writing her symphonies, even if Robert Haas, Mary Oliver, Natasha Trefthewy, and Billie Collins walk the earth alongside her. These narrative poems are determined, confident, and pointed, delivering “the mail” of the soul. Canon for Bears and Ponderosa Pines is her seventh poetry collection. Frank is the also the author of two novels and the editor of four anthologies.

Overcoming the artist’s doubt, Frank takes her lessons taken to heart; in so many poems she hits exactly the right note. From “Under a Copper Moon”:

“Clouds like white turtles

crawling across a wide lake of sky

blue and shimmering.


When a buffalo enters your dream,

Listen for arpeggio hooves,

The weight of music,

A copper moon

Above a vanishing prairie.”


In the eponymous poem “Canon for Bears and Ponderosa Pines,” Frank explores the struggle to hit the notes that she hears in dreams, accepting that she may never hit it exactly:


“The impossible climb, the arpeggio

of a sacred mountain in Nepal

where they don’t allow human trekkers.

The color of sky, a single line of pink over silver,

Ethereal, flooded with light

Before the sun falls into the Dudh Kosi River.


Sometimes, music feels impossible,

Something buried so deep inside me

It could take a lifetime

For my fingers to learn

The cello’s toning to what I hear.

A canon for bears and ponderosa pines,

A garden of calla lilies unfurling,

A night of peonies, tiny ants

Opening trills of blooms.

Impossible, but I try it anyway,”




“Years ago, I dreamed a four-part canon

All night, the voices like honey,

Bears climbing a mountain

Lit with early morning sun, the ponderosa pines

Singing notes on a pipe organ

In a cathedral of trees.”

At the end of collection, I was left elevated, exactly the purpose I turn to poetry for; for the spiritual lift, the reminder of beauty, the recollection of the worlds beyond this one that feed my soul.

Reviewer Joan Gelfand’s most recent book You Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s of Successful Authors: Craft, Commitment, Community and Confidence, published by Mango Press in July, made Amazon #1 Hot New Releases. She is the author of three poetry collections and a soon to be published novel set in a Silicon Valley gaming startup. For more information, see her website: http://

Upcoming events:

Friday, November 2, 2018, 7 to 9 pm. Book Signing at the 1st Friday Art Walk, Icon Gallery.  Diane Frank will be in Bill’s Office, with both of her new books.
58 North Main Street (“On the Square”) Fairfield, IA.

Monday, November 5, 2018 – 7:45 pm. Poetry Reading – Diane Frank, Bill Graeser, and Rustin Larson. Sustainable Living Building MUM Campus, north of the library
Diane Frank reads from her new book of poems, Canon for Bears and Ponderosa Pines and from Letters from a Sacred Mountain Place: A Journey through the Nepal Himalayas. Rustin Larson reads from Pavement and The Philosopher Savant. Bill Graeser reads from Fire in a Nutshell.