Remembering Poet David Franks

Commentator Andrei Codrescu remembers a friend, Baltimore poet David Franks. Franks blurred the line between his private life and his public art: He did outrageous things and had a sense of humor about it. One stunt: conducting the horns on a fleet of tug boats in Baltimore Harbor.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

David Franks was a Baltimore-based poet, writer and artist who blurred the line between his life and his art. He died last month at age 61. The man and his work weren't widely known so his friend and our commentator Andrei Codrescu gives us this introduction to the world of David Franks.

Mr. ANDREI CODRESCU: Every Valentine's Day, a card came in the mail and I had to be careful about opening it. For years, I wasn't and when I opened it, a rain of glitter flew out of it and covered everything with fairy dust.

After a decade or so, I got wise to the glitter and went outside to open the annual poetic love note from my dear friend David Franks.

David had a knack for annoying you while making you laugh. He was a poet above all, but his media included more than words. For instance, he organized tugboats in Baltimore Harbor to toot their horns in a sequence that spelled out one of his poems. He planned to get the churches of Baltimore to toll their bells in a certain poetic sequence, too, but this project remained unfinished when he died.

David Franks made poetry as a radio psychic advisor, on stage as a handicapped comedian, and in books like other poets, but his greatest work was his daily life. He conceived of the everyday as a poetry medium.

When he was living in Normal, Illinois, he gave me a tour of that city's main drag by taking me to stores and asking for musical underwear or complaining about the termites in a couch that he had just bought. To the baffled salespeople, he described the music that he expected the musical underwear to make and the horrific journey of the termite-riddled couch through the floor of his apartment to the place below where the termites continued chomping down the whole building.

Once, I read with David in a Washington, D.C., loft, and he managed to shoot a blank from a revolver into his head while a line of chorus girls cancan-ed behind him. It was a mistake, but it didn't kill him. And after the story was told and retold, it became legendary.

At a reception for the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, David asked the aged, blind writer to sign his heart. He opens his shirt, and the amused Borges magic-markered his chest while David asked: How are you preparing for death, maestro? Borges said: Great question. Ask it publicly after my reading.

There was no after because some uptight college dean called the police and had David arrested on a charge of indecent exposure of the heart. When Borges asked after the reading where the nice, young man with the question was, there was embarrassed silence. The dean was fired shortly afterwards.

David prepared well for death by making sure that each of his encounters was memorably enough to be told and retold. If anyone can get a message through from the other side, it would be David, I thought, and sure enough, the other day, I opened a box and found a beautiful handmade book by David Franks called "Dead Letters," and it could be read as either dead Franks or David letters. It was Valentine's Day.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: That's Andrei Codrescu remembering his friend, poet David Franks. Andrei edits an online literary journal called Exquisite Corpse.

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