Sacred Honor: A Review of Frank Messina's newly published: 'Disorderly
Conduct', Wasteland Press
Frank Messina is a poet, with a New York state of mind, searching
for the lost soul of America. His newly released book, 'Disorderly
Conduct' has been described by David Amram as 'packed with Big City
Soul' and in its earlier incarnation a work described by David Ignatow
as one that was 'shockingly new, an original.'
is putting it mildly. Frank finds the sacred in the profane, everyday
people, taking to the road, and in the cruel and unforgiving streets
of New York City.
And then there's 9/11, where at long last he's found the lost soul
of America he's been searching for. Frank Messina is the only poet
I know of who was in the trenches, immediately following the terrorist
attack in New York City. In his 9/ll poetry we not only hear the
rage and pain New Yorkers suffered, but the notion that it's hip
to feel good about being an American.
At long last, we are spared the drum roll of political correctness.
As poets sat in front of their TV sets during the aftermath, making
their analysis and criticism, Frank went into action. 'His poems
are deep in the American present
.' said Pulitzer prize winner,
upon the soft American mind
that rests on strong shoulders
and a barreled chest painted red, white, black and blue'
from 'American's Get Home'
lives across the river within viewing distance of the World Trade
Center. Eyes wide open he saw the horror unfold. Soon after, working
together side by side with people of every color and creed, he experienced
true solidarity, and found the fabric of America for which he had
been searching. During the days following 9/ll, Frank volunteered
many days and nights at the Jersey City Triage unloading tractor
trucks that carried supplies donated by Home Depot and other companies,
then loading them on barges to be transported to the war zone. For
24 straight hours, in the middle of utter chaos and horror, Frank
unloaded the goods at Ground Zero.
distraught New Jersey residents were being ferried over from Ground
Zero, Frank could not bring himself to photograph the walking wounded
as others were doing. Instead he offered sympathy and listened to
their war stories. 'Messina's "Disorderly Conduct" is
his Star Spangled Banner, but instead of bombs bursting in air,
he lets his words do the damage,' notes Poet Laureate of Queens,
see the boys with their guns
getting ready for Armageddon,
their frowns pushed in place
by cruel fingertips of revenge
and I'm stuck between a bleeding
heart and dripping sword'
from 'American't Get Home'
our conversation he says: 'Instead of oppose, why not propose---instead
of being anti-this or that, why not propose something better' He's
a bit weary of poets complaining and blaming everyone else for their
Frank Messina,III was born in Englewood, N.J. to Italian-American
parents. His father grew up in the tough streets of the Bronx, went
from being a gang member to a historian and imparted his love of
history and art to his children. His father's side of the family
emigrated from Messina, Sicily. Goethe had this to say about Sicily:
'a marvelous center where so many of the spokes of universal history
This may in part explain why Frank is so savvy about history and
art. As an art collector he recently purchased several original
sketches by Picasso and Degas. As a kid Frank remembers his grandfather
playing the guitar in the streets of Greenwich Village, once virtually
owned by the Italians, before the bohemians begin moving in at the
beginning of the 20th century. It was the same scenario in San Francisco---
so in both major cities there was this symbiotic relationship between
the Italians and the Bohemians.
got heart like Tony Bennett, George Foreman,
Marlon Brando, Jesse Owens, BB King, John Belushi
John Franco and the Miracle Mets!
I'm an American!
I'm an American!
and you will not break me!
you will not break me!
you will not break me!
from 'You Will Not Break Me' 9/12/2001
He taunts the liberals with "Look Me in the Eyes':
into the eyes
of proud, black mothers,
screaming from doorsteps
of funeral parlors
and tell them their sons and daughters
were only collateral damage
be there to watch you run'
Frank is not blindsighted either and is well aware of America's
dark side: 'Americans are in fact a large, complacent, dysfunctional
family.' Something in his attitude reminds me of how Jack Kerouac
may have felt about America. Kerouac had friends fighting in Vietnam
and was reluctant to join Allen Ginsberg and the hippies in denouncing
the war or America. Frank had friends digging deep at Ground Zero,
he attended funerals for New Jersey firefighters and he was not
about to denounce America either. Messina has a maturity, a tenderness,
a working-class sensibility about life and a sense of duty to one's
country in times of war. It makes sense that Alan Dugan refers to
his poetry as 'post modern romantic realism.'
journey as a performance poet began when he was 17 years old after
seeing Amiri Baraka read to the jazzy sounds of Branford Marsalis,
Dave Holland and Andrew Cyrille. At 18 he had his first chapbook
published, in 1991 he received the Woolrich Poetry Award, soon after
a Fellowship from Columbia University and the Allen Ginsberg Poetry
Award in 1995. You can hear Frank ranting on his CD 'Biting the
Tongue'(1998) which includes some of his poems from 'Disorderly
ability to see life through the eyes of a woman shines through in
his poem, 'Woman with a Handkerchief.' It conjures up poignant images
of a Tennessee Williams scene, telling the story of a mediterranean
woman weeping and lamenting life's sorrows and the mysteries of
the human condition:
in the yard, weeping
the language of the wind
what it's like
to be a woman
to be a man
his poem 'Riviera Lounge Woman' I'm reminded of carved images in
Asian temples depicting women in the most exquisite and salacious
positions. In these ancient societies the sacred prostitute, woman
as concubine or mistress, were held in high esteem, a time honored
role equal to that of wife and mother:
of the Riviera Lounge
stands like a monument;
an affirmation of our own
desire to spill our seed
on to bar stools,'
first met Frank Messina in October of 2001 at the London International
Poetry & Song Festival produced by Richard Deakin and poet Ron
Whitehead. Saturday evening was 'rebel night' at the Hackney Empire
Theatre, and as the American poets made their way to the stage I
was curious as to who would have the audacity to mention 9/ll. Many
of us were feeling the sting of anti-Americanism throughout London---it
was the elephant in the room that no one dared speak, until Messina
arrived at the podium. He spoke his heart and mind about the tragedy
and how he supported the American policy (this was before the U.S.
bombed Afganistan). The response was lukewarm but Messina would
'not bow down' and a verbal brawl continued outside of the theatre.
the Brits love Messina, and he's toured and given readings in the
UK many times--- and they've invited him back again this Fall.
me father Britain
for understanding the difference
between "Great" and "United",
there are those who hate America
not for our freedom and brevity
but for the ugliness that
we unfortunately inherited from you.'
From: 'Forgive Me'
performance artist, post-beat and X'er , Messina's poetry reflects
the darkness, the decay, the insanity, the chaos and the soul of
East Coast living and survival. Raised as a Catholic, he chilled
out with Buddhism for a while when life got too wretched, but mostly
finds serenity and solace in the cathedral of nature. When not writing
or collecting art, he landscapes and renovates houses. His feet
are firmly planted in the earth and he's the kind of guy you want
around in a crisis. Frank is a 'can do' man and knows how to keep
his cool and take charge on the spot.
his heros Whitman, Lorca and Gilbran, he says 'they survived as
writers by not running away from the political chaos of their time.'
Messina is comfortable in his own skin and while his big and burly
frame demands respect, he moves with the grace and pride of a Flamenco
Artemis, writer, dancer, art therapist based in N.Y.C. teaches 'Awakening
your Spirit through Dance & the Arts' workshops throughout the
U.S. and Europe. She worked in the White House for the Carter Administration
from 1977-79. In May of 2003 she will be leading a Dance workshop
on the island of Crete---for further info contact firstname.lastname@example.org