Zoe Artemis

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.'

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, Alan Dugan.

.'psychological warfare
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'

Frank 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.

As 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, Hal Sirowitz.

.'I 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'

During 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 unhappiness.
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 converge.'
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.

.I 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':

.'Look into the eyes
of proud, black mothers,
screaming from doorsteps
of funeral parlors
and tell them their sons and daughters
were only collateral damage

I'll be there to watch you run'…..

But 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.'

His 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 Conduct.'

His 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:

.'Woman in the yard, weeping
come understand
the language of the wind
come understand
what it's like
to be a woman
to be a man
a woman
a man
a wo-

In 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:

.'The woman
of the Riviera Lounge
stands like a monument;
an affirmation of our own
desire to spill our seed
on to bar stools,'

I 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.

Interestingly, 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.

.'Forgive me father Britain
for understanding the difference
between "Great" and "United",
you see,
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'

Poet, 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.

Like 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 dancer.

Zoe 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



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