|Finding poetry amid
Let other poets ponder, weak and weary. Frank Messina prefers action.
When Sept. 11 transformed Liberty State Park in Jersey City into a vast, makeshift
triage center, the Bergen County poet volunteered his services for three days. Out of that
experience, and his musing on the Twin Towers catastrophe, came a sizable chunk of his new
volume, "Disorderly Conduct":
"Forgive me for being an American,
I hope I'm not offending you
with the flag pinned upon my chest,
it's a gift from young Latoya, whose small hand I held
beneath the toxic, electrical sunrise of Sept. 12th
as the hopes for her lost Aunt faded
with each empty gurney the ferries brought in ... " ("Forgive Me")
Latoya, about age 10, was one of the many people with whom Messina came into contact in
the aftermath of Sept. 11.
"Every night she came there with a picture of her aunt," he recalls.
"After the third day, she realized she wasn't going to see her again. So she came up
to me and said, 'I want to thank you. My family doesn't speak English that well. I know
I'll never see my aunt, but I want to thank you for helping me look.' And she gave me the
pin. I felt my life change at that moment."
Good times or bad, Messina is not a passive poet, contemplating life from an upstairs
He's a bard in the Allen Ginsberg mold: a haunter of clubs and coffeehouses, a veteran
of Manhattan's Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a collaborator with musicians (he wrote several
lyrics for bluesman James Cotton), and a performer with a large international following
and several Web sites devoted to his work. He does "sit in" readings with rock
bands, hobnobs with movie stars, makes albums with his sometime band Spoken Motion, and
travels abroad on reading tours.
"I do a lot of traveling in the summer and fall," Messina says. "I do
festivals. In October, I usually do four weeks in Europe - usually the Netherlands, United
Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, Amsterdam. I have a big fan base there. I can sell a lot of
For all his bohemian credentials, Messina has also become, post-Sept. 11, a champion of
"Look into the eyes
of hard working Latinos in Hackensack,
tell them how bad America is,
I'll be listening as
'No comprendemos!' echoes
along Main Street ...
"Look into the eyes
of three-hundred and forty-three wives,
lying sleepless in the night,
tell them what you know
about wake up calls" ("Look Me in The Eyes")
"I love this country," he says. "I hate what we do sometimes. But I
think it's my responsibility as a writer to point out not only the bad things in the
country, but the good things as well.
"I believe, instead of opposing, proposing. A lot of people spend a lot of time
being anti-this, or anti-that. They should propose something better."
An Englewood native, Messina, 34, won a fellowship from Columbia University, an Allen
Ginsberg Poetry Award, and was mentored by beat movement patriarch David Amram. He's
performed his "spoke 'n' roll" compositions with musicians from the Spin
Doctors, Sun Ra Arkestra, and Phish, and read a birthday ode to Bob Dylan on the occasion
of Dylan's 60th birthday (included in "Disorderly Conduct"). Perhaps most
significant of all, Messina is one of the rare poets who can make a living - albeit a
modest one - at his craft.
"People ask me why I became a poet, and I always say, 'the money,'" Messina
For more information about Messina and to order "Disorderly Conduct," visit
Jim Beckerman's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org