Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Frank O'Hara - Selected Poems

Frank O’Hara’s “Poem Read at Joan Mitchell’s” is one of my very favorite poems of the 20th Century. I think of it as a sort of un-writing of Eliot’s “Prufrock.” The flipside, maybe, where it’s not the glittering surfaces or the form of the occasion that do us in or divert us, but the people there we care for that hold us up, and give us hope.

Poem Read at Joan Mitchell's

At last you are tired of being single
the effort to be new does not upset you nor the effort to be other
you are not tired of life together

city noises are louder because you are together
being together you are louder than calling separately across a telephone one to the other
and there is no noise like the rare silence when you both sleep
even country noises—a dog bays at the moon, but when it loves the moon it bows, and the hitherto frowning moon fawns and slips

Only you in New York are not boring tonight
it is most modern to affirm some one
(we don't really love ideas, do we?)
and Joan was surprising you with a party for which I was the decoy
but you were surprising us by getting married and going away
so here I am reading poetry anyway
and no one will be bored tonight by me because you're here

Yesterday I felt very tired from being at the FIVE SPOT
and today I felt very tired from going to bed early and reading ULYSSES
but tonight I feel energetic because I'm sort of the bugle,
like waking people up, of your peculiar desire to get married

It's so
original, hydrogenic, anthropomorphic, fiscal, post-anti-esthetic, bland, unpicturesque and WilliamCarlosWilliamsian!
it's definitely not 19th century, it's not even Partisan review, it's new, it must be vanguard!

Tonight you probably walked over here from Bethune Street
down Greenwich Avenue with its sneaky little bars and the Women’s Detention House,
across 8th Street, by the acres of books and pillows and shoes and illuminating lampshades,
past Cooper Union where we heard the piece by Mortie Feldman with “The Stars and Stripes Foever” in it
and the  Segamore’s terrific “coffee and, Andy,” meaning “with a cheese Danish”—
did you spit on your index fingers and rub the CEDAR’s neon circle for luck?
did you give a kind of thought, hurrying, to Alger Hiss?

It’s the day before February 17th
it is not snowing yet but it is dark and may snow yet
dreary Frebruary of the exhaustion from parties and the exceptional desire for spring which the ballet alone, by extending its run, has made bearable, dear New York City Ballet company, you are quite a bit like a wedding yourself!
and the only signs of spring are Maria Tallchief’s rhinestones and a perky little dog barking in a bar, here and there eyes which suddenly light up with blue, like a ripple subsiding under a lily pad, or with brown, like a freshly plowed field we vow we’ll drive out and look at when a certain Sunday comes in May—
and these eyes are undoubtedly Jane’s and Joe’s because they are advancing into spring before us and tomorrow is Sunday

This poem goes on too long because our friendship has been long, long for this life and these times, long as art is long and uninterruptable,
and I would make it as long as I hope our friendship lasts if I could make poems that long

I hope there will be more
more drives to Bear mountain and searches for hamburgers, more evenings avoiding the latest Japanese movies and watching Helen Vinson and Warner Baxter in Vogues of 1938 instead, more discussions in lobbies of the respective greatnesses of Diana Adams and Allegra Kent,
more sunburns and more half-mile swims in which Joe beats me as Jane watches, lotion-covered and sleepy, more arguments over Faulkner's inferiority to Tolstoy while sand gets into my bathing trunks
let's advance and change everything, but leave these little oases in case the heart gets thirsty en route
and I should probably propose myself as a godfather if you have any children, since I will probably earn more money some day accidentally, and could teach him or her how to swim
and now there is a Glazunov symphony on the radio and I think of our friends who are not here, of John and the nuptial quality of his verses (he is always marrying the whole world) and Janice and Kenneth, smiling and laughing, respectively (they are probably laughing at the Leaning Tower right now)
but we are all here and have their proxy
if Kenneth were writing this he would point out how art has changed women and women have changed art and men, but men haven't changed women much
but ideas are obscure and nothing should be obscure tonight
you will live half the year in a house by the sea and half the year in a house in our arms
we peer into the future and see you happy and hope it is a sign that we will be happy too, something to cling to, happiness
the least and best of human attainments

The poetry of Frank O’Hara loves life. The ragged ease of his line, the purely presentness of his idiom. his was one of the fundamental singular and brilliant visions of the 20th Century. he wasn’t finished when he died. He was barely into middle-age. We never got to see his poetry take on the 70s, and growing older. We’ve seen that in so many other poets, and how that brings them into a new way of telling. O’Hara, like Plath, and many others, will always have this unfinished quality.

Sure, even he joked in his poetry about his “I did this I did that” poems, but what about his larger vision of friendship, love, and one’s time?

In Favor of One’s Time

The spent purpose of a perfectly marvellous
life suddenly glimmers and leaps into flame
it's more difficult than you think to make charcoal
it's also pretty hard to remember life's marvellous
but there it is guttering choking then soaring
in the mirrored room of this consciousness
it's practically a blaze of pure sensibility
and however exaggerated at least somethings going on
and the quick oxygen in the air will not go neglected
will not sulk or fall into blackness and peat

an angel flying slowly, curiously singes its wings
and you diminish for a moment out of respect
for beauty then flare up after all that's the angel
that wrestled with Jacob and loves conflict
as an athlete loves the tape, and we're off into
an immortal contest of actuality and pride
which is love assuming the consciousness of itself
as sky over all, medium of finding and founding
not just resemblance but the magnetic otherness
that that that stands erect in the spirit's glare
and waits for the joining of an opposite force's breath

so come the winds into our lives and last
longer than despair's sharp snake, crushed before it conquered
so marvellous is not just a poet's greenish namesake
and we live outside his garden in pure tempestuous rights

I’ve had a perfectly wonderful time going back through the Borzoi edition of his selected poems this week. “Existence is elsewhere,” I quoted from Breton the other day, thinking about Surrealism, and the Fake Surrealism. John Ashbery has called his poetry soft Surrealism, I think. Or maybe it was “fuzzy” or “lightly” that he used. And we know that Reverdy was O’Hara’s heart. And yet his poetry seems to argue a very different view of existence from either Ashbery or Surrealism. It’s a poetry of place, absolutely. O’Hara’s New York is mythic in its absolute surface . . . but the power of O’Hara’s work is social. He was an ecstatic poet and I wish more poets were influenced by his enthusiasm and unpretentious delivery, his absolute, warm humanity.


How funny you are today New York
like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime
and St. Bridget’s steeple leaning a little to the left

here I have just jumped out of a bed full of V-days
(I got tired of D-days) and blue you there still
accepts me foolish and free
all I want is a room up there
and you in it
and even the traffic halt so thick is a way
for people to rub up against each other
and when their surgical appliances lock
they stay together
for the rest of the day (what a day)
I go by to check a slide and I say
that painting’s not so blue

where’s Lana Turner
she’s out eating
and Garbo’s backstage at the Met
everyone’s taking their coat off
so they can show a rib-cage to the rib-watchers
and the park’s full of dancers with their tights and shoes
in little bags
who are often mistaken for worker-outers at the West Side Y
why not
the Pittsburgh Pirates shout because they won
and in a sense we’re all winning
we’re alive

the apartment was vacated by a gay couple
who moved to the country for fun
they moved a day too soon
even the stabbings are helping the population explosion
though in the wrong country
and all those liars have left the UN
the Seagram Building’s no longer rivalled in interest
not that we need liquor (we just like it)

and the little box is out on the sidewalk
next to the delicatessen
so the old man can sit on it and drink beer
and get knocked off it by his wife later in the day
while the sun is still shining

oh god it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much


At 11/08/2011 4:06 PM, Anonymous BDR said...


At 11/10/2011 12:20 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...



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