glimpses at poets and pubs dubbed underground

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Franke From The Coventry Reader

Chris Franke, that is. Poet of privilidge. Cleveland's unmasked mascot. A First in the So Called Undy Poets Getta Knowya postings there'll be here at Effits Undy.

This is an article written by Lewis LaCook Summer 1990, titled
Christopher Franke: Welcome to the Underground

It has been said often and truthfully,
that writing is lonely work. All of the writer's performances are private; from the hours he spends pounding his heart out on the typewriter to the time the reader's eyes pass buried in his pages, most of the real action takes place offstage. Unlike the visual artist and the public performer, whose work must be witnessed to be appreciated, the writer seems doomed to bide his life alone in musty rooms, never experiencing the immediacy and audience reaction painting and song elicit by their very nature.

Except, of course, for Christopher Franke.

In the Cleveland literary and art world, Franke has always been an exception. Since his "birth' as a poet in the late 1960s, Franke's penchant for wry humor, scathing irony and caustic puns has earned him a spot as one of the literary underground's most prominent innovators. At every poetry event he pops up, carrying under his arm a sheaf of his latest work: sonnets, puns, love poems, metapoems, and, always, his collagepoetry, an offshoot breeding of concrete poetry and traditional collage in which Franke's trapeze approach to words and their meanings soars.

"I don't admire poets, I admire poems," Franke says of the iconoclastic style he's developed in his 21 years of "poeting". "What is impresses; what isn't, doesn't. The thought of being pinned, labeled, and boxed sets my wings to flapping. I demur making such a box."

Reading his work, the majority of which is self-published, makes one aware that Christopher Franke's wings are always flapping. His whole approach to the English language conjures up images of the gramma-wired poet getting perpetually drunk on dictionary ink. Franke does not simply twist words around, he reaches down into their gullets and turns them inside-out. Not even grammar, syntax, or context are safe from his eccentric muse. In "11," a selection from his chapbook "Title," (Cleveland State Poetry Center, 1975), Franke's manhandling of language becomes crystal clear:

He'll go to...
She'll, a conch.
It'll be nothing.
What'll be then?
I'll tell; you'll

Merry Xmas.
They'll not; we'll


It was this same style of manhandling, twisting, and rearranging the English language that led Franke to the idea of collagepoetry.

"I don't recall a specific genealogy for my coming to the use of collage-in conjunction-with poem or collage-as-poetry. It just seems to have struck me one day as a 'neat' idea. A partial picture of how collage came into play begins with my idea of making a montage out of the literary rejections my poems had accumulated (Franke's Collage of Rejections was completed in December, 1970, and is currently hanging in CSU's Rhodes Tower, Room 415) and also with my previous investigations into concrete poetry, things visual, and whatever other attendant ilk play in this etiology."

Franke's collage-poems are a frantic blend of poetry and visual art. Newspaper and magazine headlines are cut out rearranged, and pasted into poetry for the eyes to devour. Every poems is a blur of typesets, art and quotations. The result is a work of art culled from the poetry-between-the-lines that hits our doorstep every morning. Pop art!

The method greatly resembles the cut-up technique that William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin pioneered in the early 1960s.

"It sometimes seems to me that the world is a collage, and that collagers dissemble pieces of it to resemble a semblance of a sense of it," Franke says. "Re-arranging the living room is a form of a collage. One takes what is there and puts it together differently. An old picture is taken down, or a new one is put up. Watch TV with the sound off: collage. Look at a page and see what glimmers with 'I'd rather be somewhere else'."

"I paint by writing with glue; collage is my sculpture, words are my stone. A poem is the art that is on exhibit."

Franke was given a chance to exhibit his art that past January when the William Busta Gallery (2021 Murray Hill) hosted a retrospective of his collagepoems entitled, "Christopher Franke: Words & Worded Images, 1969-1989." In addition to Franke's collagepoems, the show also featured a performance by the Endangered Specie Trio, Franke's music/poetry group featuring musicinas Robert Rericha and Loretta Smith. The group, which takes its name from a tatterred purple-and-yellow shirt of Franke's, has played sets at the Cleveland Public Theatre's Performance Art Festival and various area readings, as well as Junkstock, Daniel Thompson's music-and-poetry celebration (where they'll be appearing again this year).

"In the autumn of '87, at a poetry workshop, I ran into Robert Rericha and I expressed the thought that I'd give up my right big toe to have a poem of mine set to music," Franke recalls when describing the group's genesis. "Bob said, "Well, I'm a composer; show me some of your poems, and I'll see what I can do.' So I handed him a bunch of poem. After he'd had a chance to go over the material, he made some selections, and had me do a tape recording of those poems. From there he proceeded to come up with some music for flute and guitar to accompany their recitation."

Since the group has produced a cassette of their compositions, entitled, "Romantic Antics" (Available from Deciduous, 1456 West 54th St., Cleveland, Ohio 44102).
One would think, given Franke's originality and freshness, that finding suitable publication for his offbeat work would be a veritable breeze. Wrong! The small press magazines, where most of America's poets are hiding these days, have been slow to accept Franke's eccentric muse.

"Except for places where I may have some leverage, the favorable response rate on my submissions I would calculate at about 2%," he mourns. "That's $56.00 in postage to get two poems published in a couple magazines at some indeterminate place for some indeterminate audience. If I mailed out poem-collage-paste-ups, the postage would be considerably more, and they would be totally dog-eared before someone decided to favorably blow their nose on them."

"It's that that leads one to self-publishing. Distribution is 'out-of-hand.' I like the leaflet as format. In 1986 I started to produce 'poem-collage leaflets' that I call 'articals', punched for a three ring binder. An articals may be a poem, or a poem 'collage,' or some mixture of the preceding. Funds permitting, I prefer printing; failing that, 2.5 cents is an ecstasy at such copy shops."

Despite such hardships, Christopher Franke is convinced that good poetry will live forever.

"The press gets poetry it doesn't deserve, but poetry that deserves press does not necessarily get it. Welcome to the underground. If poetry didn't exist, it would have to be invented. It may thrive under a pseudonym: as the best of lyrics wrapped in a song, in a prose passage of utmost intensity, in the most concise little ad, and that person who wants to pour his heart onto a page into poetry's brief, if intense medium is not likely to disappear. And there may even be listeners."

(from Coventry Reader Vol. 3 No. 2 Summer 1990 foto by Jim Lang)

1 comment:

  1. Franke

    Monkey puzzle tree
    No thinking, thanks, for me
    Leaves rattle on oaks left
    Over, is it storm or heft
    Displays? and early morn
    Its scramble in the bramble,
    Scrapple the maple
    Barks, the elm sheds, scraping
    At dialogue:
    Capers in the upper
    Branches waiving ways
    And means,
    Choice game the morning
    Chants in arbor

    -Upstart Malone