A celebration of the life and work of Frank Lima, hosted by Julien Poirier and Garrett Caples, featuring readings by David Shapiro, Ron Padgett, Tony Towle, Bob Holman, Wendy Xu, Susie Timmons, Filip Marinovich, Guillermo Parra, Tim Keane, and Helen Lima.
On Wednesday, January 27th, at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, we will celebrate the life, work, and long overdue return to print of Frank Lima, via a new and selected poems called Incidents of Travel in Poetry, edited by myself and Julien Poirier and published by City Lights. The oldest of three sons of a Mexican father and a Puerto Rican mother, Frank Lima was born in Spanish Harlem in 1939. A hotel cook who passed his trade onto his eldest son, Frank’s father Philip was thrown out of the household for slashing his wife’s face with a razor when Frank was around 12, and later died of alcoholism and exposure in Central Park. The young Frank was also subjected to sexual abuse by his mother, as well as a Catholic priest, leading to his dropping out of school, joining a street gang, and becoming addicted to heroin. During his incarceration in a juvenile drug rehabilitation program on North Brother Island in the East River, Frank began to write poetry with the encouragement and support of the painter Sherman Drexler. Drexler would bring Frank’s work to the attention of such poets and artists as Robert Lowell, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, and Elaine de Kooning. Lima also took up amateur boxing around this time and won a prestigious French cookery award, apprenticing under future White House chef René Verdon.
The year 1962 was pivotal for Frank, as he attended the New York Writers Conference at Wagner College and met O’Hara, Koch, David Shapiro, and Joseph Ceravolo, inaugurating the second generation of the New York School. He also scored his first publication in the Evergreen Review. In 1964, his first collection of poems, Inventory, would be published in the legendary Tibor de Nagy series. He would also appear in the collections Poets of the New York School and An Anthology of New York Poets. Yet even as he found success as a poet, he continued to struggle with heroin addiction and alcoholism, occasionally landing himself in jail for drug possession.
The 1970s would prove kinder to Frank; 1971 saw the publication of his first widely available book, Underground with the Oriole, followed by 1976’s Angel (New Poems). By 1972, he was able to get off heroin for good and began making a living as an executive for nonprofit drug rehabilitation programs. Despite his lack of formal education, having dropped out in junior high, Frank was able to earn an MFA at Columbia in 1975, studying with Koch and Stanley Kunitz. Diagnosed with cirrhosis in the late ’70s, Frank managed to stop drinking in time to arrest the disease’s progress. He began a family with his fourth wife, Roberta, having a son, Matthew, in 1976, and a daughter, Christophe, in 1983. It was at this time he embarked on a series of high-end executive chef positions, working at such restaurants as Windows on the World in the World Trade Center and the Citibank corporate cafeteria.
By the early ’80s, from a combination of his heavy workload, marital difficulties, and new-found sobriety, Frank had virtually ceased to write. But he managed to begin again in the latter portion of the decade, due to his discovery of Peter Elbow’s freewriting techniques. His marriage to Roberta ended and his work situation improved as he left the high-pressure restaurant world for good in favor of becoming an instructor at the New York Restaurant School. In 1989, through one of his cooking students, he met Helen Hansen, who became his wife in a marriage that lasted the rest of his life. In the 1990s he had a comeback in the poetry world with the publication of Inventory: New & Selected Poems, though his failure to find a publisher for his next MS, The Beatitudes, slowed his momentum. Following a deathbed meeting with Kenneth Koch, however, Frank began a 10-year period during which he wrote a poem a day every day, a practice only interrupted near the end of his life due to failing health. He died on October 21, 2013, in Lido Beach, Long Island, at the home he shared with Helen.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016, 8:00 p.m.
St. Mark’s Church, 131 E. 10th St, NY, NY 10003
There will also be a West Coast celebration of Frank Lima on Tuesday, February 9, 2016, 7:00 p.m. at City Lights Books, 261 Columbus Ave, SF, CA 94133, featuring editors Julien Poirier and Garrett Caples, as well as readers Chris Carosi, Cedar Sigo, Jackson Meazle, Rod Roland, Brian Lucas, Donna de la Perriere, and Joseph Lease.