Rhymes and Rhythms– that’s the title of a new book of poems written by Angoon elder Frank Sharp. The book is scheduled for release this summer and will have an audio component to it, so readers can hear the poet his own work.
The first time I meet Frank Sharp he’s shoveling gravel into a wheelbarrow.
Frank is 85 years old. He’s a small guy, but he’s not frail. Underneath his navy coveralls it looks like he could still run a five-minute mile.
“Believe it or not I could have been in the Olympics,” Frank said.
I’m here to get his life story, Olympic bid and all. But, when I ask him for his life story he recites one of his poems instead.
“I’ve been a soldier, sailor, killed my fellow man.
Sought peace or religion, drugs every way you can.
I’ve felt the eagerness of youth, frustration in the middle years.
I’ve laughed a million laughs, shed a million tears.”
Frank has written hundreds of poems like this one. He stores them in an old cigar box. They’re beautiful– even better when read by the poet himself. But Frank’s life– it was far from perfect.
We head inside to his kitchen, which overlooks the ocean.
“Do you want coffee or anything?” Frank offered. “We’ve got some banana bread.”
With hot coffee in our hands, Frank tells me about his childhood in Angoon and Tenakee Springs. He told me about his father’s taste for whiskey and women.
“My dad was a womanizer. I probably have 12 or 13 brothers and sisters,” Frank said. “I know of several already.”
He told me about his mother’s many marriages. He even told me about how popular he was with German women when he was stationed there with the Air Force after World War II.
“So that’s part of the story,” Frank said. “You said [to] tell my life. I’m telling you the truth.”
Somewhere in between all that, Frank lived in Kansas City, where he got wrapped up in the wrong crowd.
“I became a gangster there,” Frank admitted. “My name was Val Udo.”
If that wasn’t enough risk for one lifetime, Frank has nearly died three times – the first when his boat sank in the Gulf of Alaska, the second when he had a massive heart, and the third just a couple of years ago when he was out hunting deer in the winter. At age 81.
On the third day, he followed the sound of an Alaska Airlines flight west out of the woods.
“It’s been quite a life,” Frank exclaimed. “I could go on for hours, because I told you, I’ve had so many adventures it’s unbelievable.”
And a lot of those adventures are the subjects of the poems being bound into the book, “A Pioneer Alaskan’s Lifetime of Rhymes and Rhythms.” The book will be published by the Island Institute with links to audio, so you can actually hear Frank recite his own poetry.
“I’ve got a lot to do, yet, but I know my time is running out.
My frosting’s wearing thin, I’m fighting a war I’ll never win.”
But he keeps fighting– fixing up his home, maintaining the miles of walking trails on his property. I get the sense Frank Sharp has a hard time sitting still.
“I’m still pushing the wheelbarrows up from the beach, though it’s killing me to do it,” Frank says.
“Yeah, why do you do it?” I ask.
“Because it’s there,” Frank replied.
After a while, though, it’s clear there’s more to the story– like the part about his wife, Alice.
“Oh, now you’ll really get me,” Frank’s voice starts to waver. “I’m already watered up.”
Alice died in 2000 and the thought of her brings him to tears.
“Why didn’t I tell her then what I can’t tell her now?” Frank asks himself.
He’d tell her he loved her, that she was beautiful. That’s Frank’s biggest regret, so he tries to make up for that through his poetry and this property. He wants to be remembered for those things. He even moved a boulder to make that happen.
“It weighs above 400 pounds and I brought it up and put it there because it was the only gold-looking rock on the beach,” Frank said.
And on that gold-looking rock there will be a gold-colored plaque. It will be placed right in front of his house with a poem on it.
“The Lord gave this man vision, strength and time to work this land,” Frank read off the plaque.
It said his legacy lives on in this land. It lives on in people’s hearts, too.
“Through his poems and stories, he led us on many a journey of laughter, fear, love and tears,” it said.
In Rhymes and Rhythms, Frank Sharp lived.