Born in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, poet Frank Lima earned an MFA from Columbia University, where he studied with Stanley Kunitz. A major Latino American poet and a second-generation New York School poet, Lima rejected both labels in relation to his poetry, which is one reason why his work remains little known even in the United States. In 2016, City Lights Books published the posthumous collection Incidents of Travel in Poetry: New & Selected Poems, which Publishers Weekly called, “vibrant and sprawling;” “long-lined and supple;” “a stage for mortality and the wonderfully prosaic.”
and call it art. We were piloted by Auden who became
Unbearably acrimonious when we dropped off Senghor into the
steamy skies of his beloved West Africa. The termites and ants
were waiting for him to unearth the sun in Elissa. The clouds
were as cool as a dog’s nose pressed against our cheeks. I
notice your eggshell skin is as creamy as a lion’s armpit as we
cross the horizon on strands of Yeats’ silver hair. There is a
light coffee flame in his eyes guiding us like an old Irish house
cleaner holding a candle in a black and white English movie.
Yeats’ lips look like an angry Rimbaud illuminating poetry with
his youth and vigorous sunlight. He knew eternity would vanish
the sun at dusk. He caught it with a rainbow tied to his finger.
There was nothing left after that.
Many of Lima’s raw, wry, vulnerable poems engage with themes of intimacy, abuse and the body. In a 1997 review of Inventory: New and Selected Poems for The Chronicle, Tom Clark called “Lima's stylistic signature . . . a sensual, slangy musicality, informed by a sense of humor that is streetwise beyond its years and composed of equal parts courage and desperation.”
How many aspirins will we take to reach the surface of truth?
My existence is for sale. The dawn is learning English.
The waves of the sea are unionizing.
The stones that were once our troubled hearts are eating chocolate.
I come to sell you fish, the bread in my blood and my existence.
– from “Juarez”
In a 1996 interview with Seth Rogovoy for the Berkshire Web, Lima stated, “At some level I think all poetry is autobiographical. Even if you're writing about ancient myths, you're somehow in search of your own experiences, something that relates to what you're writing about. Even my fairy tales are autobiographical.” Jake Marmer, reviewing Lima’s posthumous collection for the Chicago Tribune, notes, “Though Lima's style has gone through a great deal of permutations, the single most enduring characteristic of his work is a commitment to life's experience in its utmost and total intensity. Oftentimes, Lima achieves this through his lucid, scintillating surrealism.”
These fields are
Fallow and dried
Gullies where gin
In the morning.
My father’s remains
Are smooth like the
Makes my life
Lima’s poetry collections include Inventory (1964), Underground with the Oriole (1971) and Angel (1976). A classically trained French chef, he taught at the New York Restaurant School and also led workshops at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. Lima lived in Long Island, New York, and died in 2013.
Incidents of Travel in Poetry: New and Selected Poems, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 2016
The Beatitudes Hard Press, West Stockbridge, MA, 2000
Inventory: New & Selected Poems, Hard Press, West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1997
Angel: New Poems, Liveright, New York, 1976
Underground with the Oriole, New York, Dutton, 1971
Inventory: Poems, Tibor de Nagy Editions, New York, 1964
Introduction by Garrett Caples, Poetry magazine
Remembering Frank Lima (1939-2013) by Wendy Xu, Fanzine
Frank Lima, 1939-2013 by Nico Alvarado, Boston Review
Interview by Guillermo Para
Interview, Poetry Society of America
Review of Incidents of Travel in Poetry by Jake Marmer, Chicago Tribune
Starred review of Incidents of Travel in Poetry, by Publishers Weekly
Review of Inventory: New & Selected Poems by Tom Clark, The Chronicle