I mentioned in a recent post that poet Steve Shrader passed away in February.
Now I just learned that another poet I first met at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop c. 1966-67 died a few years ago: Frank Polite.
Steve was a few years younger than me, but better educated at the time, and I learned a lot from him. I never saw him again after the late 1960s and a few readings we did together here and there.
He ended up in Hawaii, where as I understand it he taught and continued to write.
Frank was another story. He was a few years older than me, an Italian-American working-class guy, who I think was also a Navy veteran. His poetry was already published in such prestigious places as The New Yorker and Poetry magazine.
A lot of it was more sophisticated than what I was doing, but he had one poem similar to my stuff, called “Tossing Cats Off the Watertower,” about a childhood friend named, “Johnny Garbagelli.”
Frank encouraged me, and at the same time helped keep me from taking the whole workshop experience too seriously. I was overwhelmed by the opportunities to learn, after my own more than four years in the service, and coming from very little higher education. Frank was just what I needed to not only feel at home but to cut through the pretensions of academia.
I was sorry to hear he had died, from fellow poet and Iowa graduate Bob Berner, but was also grateful for the poem Bob shared with me that he wrote in tribute to Frank and sent to Frank’s widow. So I share it here with those of you who knew Frank, and for those of you who didn’t to maybe get a better take on who he was:
Letter To Dorothea
O tell me that my sweet dear Franco Poletti,
Renowned Italian director
Who longed to film the levitation
Of an entire building
At the University of Iowa,
Whose Carmen Miranda is still dancing,
Whose bush pilot still flies the wilds of Alyeshka,
Whose sad Lawrence Talbot still seeks a cure,
Who immortalized a kid with a name—
That by itself would guarantee he’d be remembered,
Is not dead.
Or, if he has received
His letters of transit
To that other realm
For which there is no round-trip ticket,
That he dine this night
With his revered Dante,
The two terza-riming until dawn,
Their Dorothea and Beatrice,
This side of paradise.
Frank Polite, In Memoriam