Based out of New York, poet and author Frank Messina has been extremely active in the movement to revive poetry as a life performance art form, attempting to get audiences to associate such an endeavor with excitement rather than boredom. Of the various burbling streams in the wilderness of live poetry performance, Messina has stuck a toe in most and has taken lengthy swims in a few, such as the always controversial jazz poetry pool. Some of the players he has enlisted as collaborators at such live events or recording projects include free jazz violinist Billy Bang and honking Philadelphia tenor man Elliott Levin, who are also poets in their own right. Messina is the author of the well-received book of poetry
Disorderly Conduct and his work has appeared in publications, including Oxford Magazine, the Published in Heaven Poster Series, Oxalis, Footwork: The Paterson Literary Review, Frank of Paris, The New Press, the Newark Writer's Journal, and Promethean Press. He was a 1993 recipient of the Woolrich Poetry Award and Fellowship of Columbia University and the 1995 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award. Yet seeing his text in print and picking up honors has not been the be-all, end-all for a poet who is so interested in live sound. By 2001, Messina had recorded more than 100 of his spoken word and music compositions, releasing the Biting the Tongue CD in 1998 with the violin bing-bam-boom of Bang and a follow-up, entitled Absorb, the following year. Other important musicians who have made guest appearances with Messina include composer and performer David Amram, quite a profound influence in terms of combining text and music, and the duo of Scott Murawksi and Mark Mercier from the band Max Creek. Messina's recordings have placed on the Top 20 spoken word charts, one of them remaining for some 16 weeks. His band, Spoken Motion, works primarily with jazz and pop music and has picked up something of a following from the younger jam band crowd. Max Creek is a good connection in this regard and it is quite common to find Messina on-stage during their shows, sometimes taking part in improvised musical events with the likes of Mike Gordon of Phish. Members of Spoken Motion have included the fine percussionist Larry McDonald, who associated with Gil Scott-Heron's Amnesia Express and some of the finest jazz poetry ever created; Levin; guitarist Bob Susko; drummer Wes Jensen; and bassist Joe Isgro. In 1999, Messina formed Octopoet, which he describes as a "spoken roll" band. This unit has featured members of the Spin Doctors, Max Creek, Sun Ra's Arkestra, the bands of Gil Scott-Heron, and Spoken Motion, as well as jazz fusion bassist Mark Egan and the talented saxophonist Erik Lawrence. Some of Messina's major performances include the Lollapalooza Festival and Woodstock '94 and he is a frequent guest on National Public Radio. He also has something of a sideline with an acting career, perhaps threatening the bigger, tougher Henry Rollins with Hollywood connections based on some of these impressive credits: The Big Kahuna and The Hurricane. He has also been in a film entitled Shampoo Horns, although this sounds a bit more like a packing list for his associate Levin. But he is not the same-named actor of soap opera fame, nor the one who played accordion on records by Doris Day, Gene Autry, and many others -- though if he had been, he probably would have done a darn good job.