David Franks---loveable, eccentric, inventive---died on January 14, 2010, after a long struggle with cancer. The Baltimore Sun obituary gave his age as 61, which seemed suspiciously young to those of us who knew him for a long time. And, in fact, Betsy Boyd, one of his ex-girlfriends, tells me he would actually have turned 67 on January 30th of this year. There was a memorial service at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore on Sunday, January 31, at which I was asked to read. The piece I read is below. [above: David Franks; below: the old Patterson Theater in Baltimore, home of the Creative Alliance]
David was more multimedia artist than traditional poet. Most of what I have by him is on CDs rather than in books. He composed a variety of music, using Cagean and other strategies. But his poems are also wonderful---check out "Alice Gaines Played the Harp" or his very funny piece "Pay Attention!," which he read with the aid of a bullhorn (and which goes beyond humor to map out his personal aesthetic).
Robert Creeley praised David's work, his old friend Andrei Codrescu said that David "...is one of the very few of my contemporaries whose work excites me consistently," and Jackson Mac Low admitted that his "...interest in letter-to-sound techniques was rearoused by David Franks―the brilliant experimental poet, composer, and conceptual artist...."
But it was really in Baltimore―among his many friends, collaborators, and ex-lovers―that David was best known and appreciated. His friend Joe Wall is rebuilding David's website, Baltimore writer David Beaudouin has established a temporary social network site, and his other friends will, I'm sure, keep his legend alive. (Whether David was also the secret "Poe Toaster," who left flowers and cognac at Poe's grave every year, remains a matter of speculation; see here, too. ) For more about David, see Michael Lally's recent post; for photos of David, look here.
[DC poet Doug Lang and Smartish Pace magazine's Stephen Reichert outside the Patterson]
Things I Will Miss about David Franks
No more valentine's day card from him.
I would almost always forget and open
the card too hastily and all that glitter
and all those tiny red hearts would spill out
all over the floor, and it would piss me off.
And that is what David probably intended.
David could sense my presence
in Baltimore. It amazed me. He would always
show up, as though he controlled some satellite
system in the sky that kept track of everything
happening in his beloved city. And it was always
good to see him. His sincere, gentle, but ever
subversive self transforming the event.
David loved attention, but wasn't cheap
about bestowing it on his friends.
His humor, courage, optimism in the face
of illness. His refusal to not be himself
at all times, in all circumstances.
His work: that overflowing energy and creativity.
Bells ringing! Underwater symphonies! Xeroxes
of his genitals! The music of tears, bubbles,
raindrops. Whatever it took, he took it.
Or stole it. I remember in 1975 or so, David and I
and 5 or 6 other poets did a radio show in DC
in which we were each asked to read a poem.
When David's turn came, he read a poem of mine
called "Excuses," verbatim. I was shocked.
He came up to me after the program, and in his
earnest fashion asked, "how did you like my
I said, "what the fuck do you mean, your poem?"
He seemed to consider the worthiness of my objection
and declared he would from then on say that the poem
was in homage to me. "Excuses" was apparently one
of the first of David's "involuntary collaborations."
I could never get angry with him. David Franks was presumed
innocent in all situations as far as I was concerned.
And if he was going to steal your poem
he'd do it right in front of you & on the air.
I will miss his performances.
I have vague memories of seeing David read for
the first time in DC in the early '70s. Might have
been the Pyramid Gallery in Dupont Circle.
He was already an inventor, experimenter,
performer. Collaborating with the xerox machine.
David didn't hold anything back, and if you were
shocked, outraged, offended, or made nervous
by his work,
so much the better.
In not knowing what he was doing,
he knew exactly what he was doing.
The phone calls out of the blue that would
go on for hours. I can't even remember
what we talked about. And after a while
I'd say, David, I've got to pee, I've got to eat,
or go to bed or go to work, or whatever it
was the rest of us have to do that David
had a permanent exemption from.
Ted Berrigan said "Let none regret my end
who called me friend." And Frank O'Hara once remarked,
"After the initial shock, death makes me angrier
rather than sadder." David loved Berrigan & O'Hara,
so I will go along with a lack of regret and some anger
today. But I also have to object to the attitude common
these days that we should just celebrate someone's life,
be happy we knew them, etc.
Yeah, okay, I guess we can do that.
Celebrate. David would probably approve.
But we should also grieve.
He's gone, he's not coming back,
though we will
remember him when we hear
a tugboat's musical belch
or a church bell
anytime in Baltimore.