by John Serrano
Frank Lima first published in 1962, and though he dropped out of the poetry scene he never stopped writing, as evidenced by this recent volume of selected poems. Skip the disastrous "New Poem" that opens the book, as it reads like a prose memoir chopped into lines for no apparent reason, and begin with Lima's energetic youthful output, which quickly makes apparent why Lima wowed poets like Kenneth Koch back in the day. Lima speaks in metaphors as if they were everyday slang—"your heart's a tin cup / begging for wine" he writes of his freshly widowed grandfather in "Abuela's Wake"—and approaches love, sex, and the body with a refreshing matter-of-factness. His work becomes less bombastic and messy as he matures, but still retains his quizzical approach to the sensual world, as in a beautiful series of flower poems; and his take on New York School style surrealism during this period is nothing short of terrific. The more recent poems in this book betray an earned weariness ("The universe is shrinking / Like a small lifeboat") but still offer a wry humor ("Ron Padgett's hair is a billion years old / An international team of 439 scientists is / Working on his eyes") whose presence sometimes leads toward the inconsequential but whose absence would diminish the overall generosity of spirit these poems exult. It should also be noted that while Lima constantly weaves his Hispanic background into his poetry on the level of language, he never once uses it as an easy shorthand for emotional content (except, again, for that unfortunate anomalous memoir-poem). Such a triumph is rare in our identity-driven culture. "The face of poetry / is an expressive cut of meat that gives us a glimpse of truth," Lima writes in the magnificent "On Poetry," and his work more than lives up to this credo.
Rain Taxi Print Edition, Vol. 2 No. 4, Winter (#8) | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 1997