Frank Lima

From his long poem, and the title poem to his new (posthumously-published) book, Incidents of Travel in Poetry Frank Lima:

“…We move the sun to South/America. Neruda had become an organic poet writing about/ the fulcra of yes and no. He wasn’t at home when we got there,/so we went over to Allen’s for some microbiotic poetry. As/usual, Allen was rolling incense and howling at America. Allen/was always mystical and beautiful when he walked on the/Lower East Side. When he stepped into the old Jewish/pavement, he mystified the habitués. David Shapiro, the Djinn/of subatomic poetry, asked Allen what was the future of poetry/in the borough of Queens? Allen placed the palm of his right/hand on David’s glittering forehead and said: “David, don’t you/know? The future has no future. It is very old and doesn’t worry about its future anymore, because it has so little left of/ it”. Allen made suicide exhilarating when he wrote Kaddish./Finally, suicide could talk about the pain of living with/unbearable beauty..”

and the poem, “Homenaje” (from his 1997 collection, Inventory – New & Selected Poems (“One decade of Suffering City Withdrawal Pains is focused here”, wrote Allen, “in the few poems a young man finds in his head by Art Miracle and offers Futurity, a little free Joy from Frank Lima”) – written March 29, 1995, a full two years before Allen’s passing:

Inventory- New & Selected Poems, 1997


like God
Allen will be taken away from us
to the slaughterhouse of dear God

what will happen to
Allen’s great eyes

will he give them to my son
the new poet of life

will Allen become the pieces of the past
the little quiet feast

who will collect
his glasses
who will haunt poetry in memphis
in the vending machines

we the little children of his soul
are the prostitution tourists
the four dimensional fleas
and our poetry revenant helices

because poets do not sleep
they die like bread

like the id
underneath the tree of secrets
like the dust
underneath the tree of secrets
like the sacred dust of the soul
sounds to a cassette

you are the devastating force
of an old poem
the sarcoma of a minor poet

like me

the idiot in Allen’s heart
america tell me poems
writing kiss me with your round dream poems

From a Spring 2001 interview with Guillermo Parra:

GP: Your poem “Homenaje” is dedicated to Ginsberg. How much of an influence did his work have on you as a young writer, and in recent years, as fellow poets?

FL: In the beginning there was Allen. Allen was the second poet I read. The first was Robert Lowell. Both were the ultimate influences in my early writing career. Allen gave a sense of current life and immediacy. Lowell had the elegance and education I did not have. I benefited greatly from both at the time. My Homenaje, or tribute, to Allen, is an honest and open acknowledgement of how important he was to my early writings.

Angel, 1976

Parra’s obituary note in 2013 – “This is the sorrow of poetry in America” is well worth reading
Wendy Xu’s note in Fanzine – “Remembering Frank Lima (1939-2013)” is another heart-felt testament and can be found here
Nico Alvarado in The Boston Review further provides insight and context
Here’s Tom Clark‘s review of Inventory (the earlier Selected Poems) in the San Francisco Chronicle (and Richard Silberg in Poetry Flash)

Here‘s a hugely-revealing interview Lima gave (Q & A), in 1999, to the Poetry Society of America.

“Frank Lima”, David Shapiro boldly declares, “is an American Villon“, a singular force.
“After enduring a difficult and violent childhood, he discovered poetry as an inmate of a juvenile drug treatment center under the tutelage of the painter Sherman Drexler who introduced him to his poet friends.”
Protege of Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara,as well as Allen, “the only Latino member of the New York School during its historical hey-day”, he was/is, without question, (also)
“a major Latino poet” (though, as Garrett Caples , this new book’s editor, points out, “throughout his life (he) rejected both labels (New York School, Latino) in relation to his poetry, and this rejection is one reason why his work remains little known.”)

Another, even more “damaging” perhaps, factor to his poetic reputation, was his prolonged hiatus. In the late 1970’s, Lima left the poetry world to pursue a successful parallel career as a professional chef . For twenty years, from the publication of Angel in 1976 till his “re-discovery” in Inventory in 1997, (and indeed, for less laudable reasons, before), he was essentially “off the radar”. That book triumphantly announced his return to the fold, but, regrettably, his follow-up volume, The Beatitudes, was stalled, persistently stalled, and did not find publication, dissipating all the momentum.

Caples, in his comprehensive and illuminating introduction ( a must-read) writes:

“The failure of Beatitudes to appear was a source of great bitterness to Lima, destroying the momentum of his comeback in the poetry world. This combined with an unsuccesful attempt to stage a libretto he wrote about the king and queen if Mexico, led him to abandon further attempts at publication, though he remained willing to contribute poems and give readings when asked.”

However, if publication passed him by, owing to an inspirational death-bed encounter with his mentor, Kenneth Koch, Lima, as it happened, “only grew more prolific in the last decade of his life” – Koch had suggested he discipline himself to write a poem a day, and, “as a result, there are hundreds – more likely thousands – of pages of poetry from the last decade of his life.” “Even allowing for his inevitable culling of inferior pieces and perhaps an occasional day off”, Caples writes, “he would have composed in excess of 3,500 poems. Given the small number of previous collections…it’s safe to say the bulk of Lima’s poetry remains unpublished”.

The new volume features a generous selection of that previously-unpublished work, since,

“it is with this late work that we can ultimately support the claim that Lima is a major poet. For here Lima developed a distinctive mode that accomodated everything from the quotidian to the literary and historical to the most exalted displays of surrealist imagination..The world has yet to experience the extent of his poetic genius.”

Bob Holman , author of the 2000 profile/investigative poem, “The Resurrection of Frank Lima “, writes:

“This is what we’ve been waiting for, a grand selection of Frank Lima’s poetry with immersive additional material that tells his stories and contextualizes him as the unique, uniquely connected, poet and person that he was. From his first contact with poetry while incarcerated as a juvenile offender in Harlem, through his meetings with Langston Hughes [sic] and Frank O’Hara, his years with Bill Berkson, (Ron) Padgett and (Ted) Berrigan, his stint as a chef, and his years of living his Vow to Poetry when he wrote at least a poem a day in total obscurity – Lima’s life is an epic of contradictions. Frank Lima is a poet the world has been waiting to discover, Now we can.”

Here‘s a gem. Frank Lima, late in his career (in 2010) reading poems at Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee

“Ginsberg was an early admirer and Lima counted both Ginsberg and Gregory Corso as influences on his work. But, as (David) Shapiro also reports, Lima was critical of the Beat Generation’s exaltation of street life: “He said to me, you know, I’ve tried as much as possible to get away from the Beat Generation. I tried to get away from violence and the old drug habits, and they want to push me back in…Allen always wants to get back to Harlem, I want to get out of Harlem.”

(from Garrett Caples’ Introduction to Frank Lima – Incidents of Travel in Poetry – New and Selected Poems (2016))

Further Caples notes on the City Lights blogspot

Jake Marmer‘s review in the Chicago Tribune here

Buy this book!

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