Frank the poet
He was Frank the carpenter. Now he is Frank the poet. The two are sides of the same coin, of course, but a few months ago Frank Cunningham decided to set aside his tools to give writing his full attention.
Carpenters, of course, are paid much better than poets. “I made $100 on poetry so far,” he said. So he will craft his stanzas until his money runs low, then pick up his carpenter’s tools again.
But until then his new life has some benefits that go further than a paycheck. He has worked with Robert Behrman, composer and music director at the First Congregational Church, and Armenian-born violinist Armen Ghazaryan, to put his words to music. Seeing them performed was only part of the thrill.
“That I could, somewhat accidentally and in the dead of winter on this island, meet some people of different skills to collaborate with has been very satisfying,” Frank said.
But his real challenge is to see if he can bring poetry to everyday life.
Frank grew up in a small town called Ballina, in county Mayo, in the west of Ireland. It is a place where someone singing a song or reciting a poem, maybe to make a point during an argument, is not considered out of place.
Nantucket is not a small Irish town where the roots of language run deep. It is a place where the average guy walking down the street probably cares very little about poetry.
Frank remains undeterred. He has read poems on job sites. The response? He laughs as he tells you, “A lot of silence. But what’s the point of writing them if they’re not heard by the general public? One thing is I think I can read my poems to anybody and they’ll get the message in it.”
He has read poems to grocery clerks, standing in the aisle at the Stop & Shop. He sometimes pops into artist John Devaney’s studio to read a new poem. And he often finds himself at open mike night in some bar, elbowing his way to the stage to read a few lines in between the singer/songwriters.
“A poem will stand up against a guy with his guitar, singing a song about some woman he once loved,” he says, laughing. “But I notice that the musicians all go for a cigarette break when I get up to read.”
Well-done public art serves the same purpose as a public water fountain. You walk down the street on a hot day, you stop at a water fountain, take a quick gulp, and walk away refreshed. Art can provide the same fine relief, especially when times get tough.
It was like that one cold, gray day this past winter. Frank ran into a Jamaican housepainter he had worked with a few years ago. He recited a poem for him that contained the lines, “Culture’s quick divide/trivialities thrown about/as both checked the women out.”
They shared a laugh, a small moment of warmth on a day that needed it. William Carlos Williams once wrote that “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
That is true even if what is found there is a small moment of insight and a smile.
– John Stanton